What causes swelling

Swollen legs and feet / thick leg

Overview of the symptom

All day long just standing or sitting - and in the evening both legs are heavy and feet and ankles are swollen. It's even worse in summer when it's warm. Now nothing like on the sofa and put your legs up. Usually the bonds are slim again after a short time and the old strength returns.

Foot exercises or a cold shower also help many get back on their feet. Due to the one-sided stress, the blood had congested in the leg veins and fluid had accumulated in the tissue. "Water in the legs" is often used colloquially. If the legs are relieved or cooled, the return flow of blood through the veins to the heart works better again.

However, anyone who constantly has thick legs in the evening, visible spider veins, but above all varicose veins, should pay attention and seek medical advice. This also applies if the legs are permanently or repeatedly swollen during the day, the skin changes or discolored, there is pain or if only one leg shows swelling.

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! warning sign is always a sudden, acute swelling of the legs. Also alarming are sudden shortness of breath, breath-dependent chest pain, palpitations and sudden circulatory weakness. This can be caused by pulmonary embolism, a dreaded complication of venous thrombosis. Tel. Emergency call (ambulance control center): 112!

Certain clues can sometimes arise from how and where the swellings appear, whether on one or both legs, how long they last, what they are made of, what other signs of the disease are added.

Occurrence of edema and thickening only on one leg, mainly on the foot, ankle and / or lower leg, are often caused by disorders in the venous or lymphatic system. The whole leg can also be affected here.

Edema on both sides often refer to diseases of internal organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys, thyroid gland. Symmetrical swellings are also characteristic of pathological accumulations of fat (lipedema).


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Swollen legs: Various diseases are possible

To the main pathological causes belong Circulatory disorders, usually due to weak veins, and problems in the lymphatic vessels. Dreaded triggers of a mostly unilateral swelling of the whole leg are deep vein thrombosis or an infection.

In some women, it introduces an excessive formation of adipose tissue Lipedema, too unusually thick legs. The feet, on the other hand, are spared from the original damage, i.e. initially slim.

Organ diseases, cancer and metabolic disorders can also be responsible for swollen legs, among other things. Sometimes no causes can be found either. Incidentally, this article does not deal with edema during pregnancy, nor with swelling caused by injuries.

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Possible causes of swollen feet and legs

Swelling on one leg:

  • Venous disorders: varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis, chronic venous weakness, phlebitis (also on both legs)
  • Lymphedema (also on both legs)
  • Insufficient blood flow in the arteries (ischemia, also in both legs)
  • Infections (erysipelas)
  • Tumors (also on both legs)

Swelling on both legs:

  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Lipedema
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney weakness
  • Liver disease
  • Protein deficiency edema
  • diabetes
  • eating disorder
  • Allergies, poisoning
  • Hormonal disorders (hypothyroidism, adrenal disorders)
  • Hormone fluctuations (before menstruation, during pregnancy)
  • Consequences of operations, cancer therapies
  • Medicines (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, calcium channel blockers, diuretics, drugs containing cortisone, hormonal contraceptives, hormone replacement drugs, and others)
  • Diuretic and laxative abuse or risky alcohol consumption

The exact causes of swelling on one or both legs must always be one doctor pursue. After initial examinations, the family doctor will refer his patient to a specialist in internal medicine (internist) or to a vascular specialist (phlebologist, angiologist) if necessary.

How swelling can occur at all is explained in the next chapter "How swellings arise" (see also the chapter links above at the beginning of the text). The following chapters give you a brief overview of the most important clinical pictures and also provide information about the treatment options.

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Important NOTE:
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.