Leg Swelling -- Top 10 Causes and Cures

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Last updated April 12, 2017 (originally published July 3, 2010)

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist   

It can be uncomfortable, unattractive and irritating, but
how do you tell if leg swelling is the sign of something
more serious? How is leg swelling different from swollen
ankles? Are there natural remedies for swelling legs?

The medical term for your uncomfortable, swollen legs is
edema (also spelled "oedema"). Leg swelling usually occurs
due to the build-up of fluid in the tissues of the leg. It can
be caused by a number of diseases, disorders and
conditions varying in seriousness from swollen veins to
kidney problems and cardiac disorders. This wide range of
risk factors makes it difficult to diagnose and difficult to
stop worrying about.

When One of My Legs Swell ---What Does It Mean?

According to The Mayo Clinic, the following generalizations
should be considered when diagnosing leg swelling.
Swelling in one leg only is more likely to indicate a
condition related solely to that leg, such as an injury, than
to a condition concerning distant organs like the heart.
There is one exception to this rule and that is swelling
related to
deep vein thrombosis, a blockage in an interior
vein in one leg. In some cases, the blockage or clot can
break free, travel to your heart or brain and cause a
attack or stroke.

More rarely, when swelling occurs in only one leg, known
as "unilateral swelling", it can be caused by a cyst or lesion.
Doctors from Venenklink Bellevue clinic in Kreuzlkingen,
Switzerland reported two such cases in 2011. In both
cases where only one leg was swollen, the ultimate cause
was found to be a ganglion cyst compressing the femoral
(thigh) vein. The doctors noted that "Venous compression
due to external cystic lesions, although rare, is recognized.
In strange cases this differential diagnosis should also be
taken into account. Therapeutic options are the surgical
removal or puncture of the cyst."

When Both Legs Swell---What Does It Mean?

Swelling in both legs is more likely to indicate that the
person is suffering from a condition that affects the whole
body, such as heart disease, or a condition not initially
related to the legs such as sitting or standing for long
periods. However, it’s important to remember that if you
have a serious disorder you won’t only suffer from swollen
legs. Other symptoms, such as chest pain in the case of
heart disease, will accompany your leg swelling.

Top 10 Causes and Remedies of Leg Swelling

1. Kidney Disease

Your kidneys are the key to many occurrences of leg
swelling. You may not notice any symptoms at first but, as
it goes forward, kidney failure affects the way the body
flushes out its waste and how it regulates its water levels.
Swelling can occur in the legs because the kidneys cannot
remove fluids and waste materials efficiently. Other signs of
kidney failure, which may occur many months after the
kidneys have started to experience problems, include
lethargy, weakness, shortness of breath and abnormal
heart rhythms. (Read more about
kidney disease.)

The leading cause of kidney failure in the US, accounting
for 44% of the cases, is
diabetes. Moreover, the second
leading cause is
high blood pressure, accounting for 28%
of cases, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

The incidence of swollen legs is rising, right alongside the
rising number of cases of diabetes and high blood pressure.

Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure strikes when the heart fails to
function properly as a pump and cannot push enough
oxygen-rich blood around the body. Congestive heart
failure  can affect many different organs. When the heart
cannot pump enough blood to the kidneys they in turn can’
t push out salt and water. The kidneys retain water in

As the body becomes overloaded with fluid, the legs swell.
You may also notice swelling in the abdomen. If you have
swollen legs and the following symptoms, consult a medical
professional: fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and a
decrease in your ability to exercise. (Read more about the
Top 10  
signs of heart failure.)

Liver Problems

Leg swelling can be caused by progressive cirrhosis of the
liver. Cirrhosis of the liver is a complication of liver disease
which causes the loss of liver cells and scarring of this vital

As the disease becomes severe, signals are sent to the
kidneys to cause them to retain salt and water in the body.
This excess fluid builds up in the legs due to the effect of
gravity. Swelling is often worse after sitting or standing all
day and may get better overnight. Cirrhosis can also cause
fatigue, loss of appetite,
easy bruising and yellowing of the
skin. Get medical help if you have a history of liver disease
and your legs have started to swell.

Prostate Cancer

Leg swelling can unfortunately be a sign of advanced
prostate cancer. Early prostate cancer doesn’t normally
cause any symptoms. As the cancer grows it can spread to
the bladder, lymph nodes and bones. If the cancer reaches
the bladder it can obstruct the tubes that connect the
kidneys to the bladder and you can develop kidney failure
over many months. Leg swelling is one of the signs of
kidney failure, as well as nausea, itching and
fatigue. Other
symptoms of prostate cancer include an urgency to pass
urine, difficulty or pain in passing urine or blood in the


There are other options to consider when looking for the
cause of your leg swelling, and they aren’t signs of a
serious disease or condition. Have you been working out in
a hot gym? At high temperatures the body isn’t good at
removing fluid from the tissues. At high altitudes you can
also experience swelling.

One of the most
common causes of leg swelling and
swollen ankles  is prolonged standing or sitting, particularly
in cramped surroundings such as the economy airline seat
or a small car. Because gravity works its magic, swelling is
more noticeable in the lower parts of the body but it is
usually painless. You are more likely to suffer if you are
overweight so losing the extra pounds is one of the
remedies you can put into action at home.

Lift your legs above your heart, on cushions or blankets,
when lying down. Try to exercise your legs, particularly
when stuck on a plane. You can also wear support
stockings and massage your legs in the direction of your
Following a low salt diet can aid in reducing fluid
retention and, in turn, swelling.

In addition to reducing the amount of salt in your diet, you
should also make sure that you are eating foods rich in
potassium such as bananas,
dark leafy greens and the
champion of potassium content, white beans.

Hormonal Causes

It can be very normal for your legs to swell during
pregnancy. When pregnant you release hormones that
cause the body to retain fluid and salt.
The enlarged uterus
sometimes can press against the inferior vena cava, which
obstructs blood flow from the arteries of your thighs
(femoral arteries).
The face may swell, as can the legs.

When you are pregnant your blood clots more easily,
putting you at risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis, which causes
leg swelling. Excessive swelling can also be a
sign of pre-
so get your symptoms checked out if you are
worried. Women can suffer from swollen legs during or
before their period when the hormone progesterone is
reduced, contributing to fluid retention.

Water Aerobics Helps Leg Swelling During Pregnancy

Several studies have found that pregnant women with
swollen legs can be helped by water immersion exercise.

One study in 2005 from Zurich University Hospital in
Switzerland discovered that just a single session in the
water can really help. Even a single session of water
aerobics was found to reduce swelling by an average of
112 ml  (about a 7% reduction)  in the left leg and 84 ml
(about 5% reduction) in the right leg.  


If your legs start to swell suddenly, for no known reason,
you may be suffering from a blood clot.
Blood clots occur
more frequently when you haven’t moved for a long period
of time and come with symptoms of pain, usually an ache
deep within the calf or upper thigh. The clot or blockage
reduces the flow of blood which increases pressure on the
vein resulting in swelling. A
deep vein thrombosis may
make the leg painful, tender and red and may make it
difficult to walk. Deep vein thrombosis can cause serious
complications and requires immediate treatment with blood
thinners. Another vein condition that can cause surface
swelling is

When Blood Pools In My Legs--- What Does It Mean?

A condition called venous insufficiency occurs when blood
begins to pool in the leg veins, stretching the vein wall.
Some of the valves cannot hold the weight of excessive
blood, which puts extra pressure on the next valve, causing
fluid to seep into the tissue. This causes leg swelling, aches
and tiredness. Remedies for venous insufficiency include
elevating the legs, massage, exercise and in some cases

Horse Chestnut is a popular herbal treatment for venous
insufficiency. One 1976 study (Neiss A, Bohm C.
Demonstration of the effectiveness of the horse-chestnut-
seed extract in the varicose syndrome complex) followed
212 people over 40 days on a treatment of either horse
chestnut or placebo which then crossed over to the other
treatment after 20 days.

Horse chestnut significantly reduced leg swelling and pain
when compared to placebo. A 1986 study (Lohr E, Garanin
G, Jesau P, et al. Anti-edemic therapy in chronic venous
insufficiency with tendency to formation of edema) of 74
people reached a similar conclusion.

One precaution you should observe if you decide to use
horse chestnut is that the active ingredient in horse
chestnut is a blood thinner. Thus, you should not use horse
chestnut if you are taking blood thinning medications such
as statins.


Oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes, or "OPCs" to you
and me, are bioflavonoids found in grape seed and pine
bark as well as cranberry, blueberry, hawthorn and bilberry.

OPCs reduce leg swelling.  One double-blind, placebo-
controlled trial lasting two months and looking at 40
individuals with chronic venous insufficiency found that
100mg, three times daily of OPCs from pine bark
significantly reduced leg swelling (2000; Arcangeli P.
Pycnogenol in chronic venous insufficiency.)

Pine bark extract, in particular, can reduce leg swelling. A
2006 study from the L'Aquila University in Italy published
in the journal of Clinical and Applied Thrombosis/
Hematosis showed a 35 percent reduction in the symptoms
of chronic venous insufficiency, which causes leg swelling,
when taking pine bark extract. The 86 patients
supplemented with Pycnogenol, an extract from the bark of
the French maritime pine tree.

In 2013, a study from Japan confirmed that grape seed
extract is a natural remedy for leg swelling caused by
sitting too long.

Calling leg swelling a "modern day affliction for sedentary
women" --- a description that overlooks the fact that men
also suffer from swollen legs --- the research group from
the Research and Development Division of Kikkoman Co in
Japan studied whether grape seed extracts could reduce
swelling in women who were sat for 6 hours a day. The
study did just that, confirming that taking grape seed
extract for 14 days can help to significantly reduce leg
swelling and water retention in general.

Herbal Remedies Can Help Leg Swelling

The herb Gotu Kola was shown, in a double-blind study of
94 people with venous insufficiency, to improve symptoms
of leg swelling (Pointel JP, Boccalon H, Cloarec M, et al.
Titrated extract of Centella asiatica (TECA) in the treatment
of venous insufficiency of the lower limbs.)

Red Vine Leaf proved significantly more effective than
placebo in reducing leg swelling due to chronic venous
insufficiency, according to a 2000 study (Kiesewetter H,
Koscielny J, Kalus U, et al. Efficacy of orally administered
extract of red vine leaf AS 195 (folia vitis viniferae) in
chronic venous insufficiency (stages I-II).) This study
followed 219 individuals and found dosages of 360mg and
720mg of red vine leaf were most effective.

Butcher's broom is another herb which can reduce leg
swelling. A 2002 study (Vanscheidt W, Jost V, Wolna P, et
al. Efficacy and safety of a Butcher's broom preparation
compared to placebo in patients suffering from chronic
venous insufficiency) found the herb Butcher’s Broom
significantly decreased leg swelling when compared to
placebo. The study looked at 166 women with chronic
venous insufficiency for 12 weeks.

Medications That Cause Your Legs to Swell

Certain medications can cause leg swelling as a side effect.
The hormones in the birth control pill and hormone
replacement therapy can have an effect on your legs. Blood
pressure medications such as nifedipine, amlodipine,
diltiazem, felodipine and verapamil can cause swelling, as
can steroids and some antidepressants.  (Read more about
natural remedies for high blood pressure.)

Prednisone, anti-inflammatory drugs and calcium blockers
can cause leg swelling as a side effect.

When it comes to antidepressants, in 2010 doctors from Tri-
Service General Hospital in Taipei, Taiwan reported that
two particular kinds of antidepressants should be watched
carefully.  They reported "a rare case of a 48-year-old
female who presented with bilateral lower-leg swelling due
to a medication-induced angioedema resulting from the use
of two common classes of antidepressants, venlafaxine and
mirtazapinevenlafaxine and mirtazapine."

To combat the problems of leg swelling, physicians often
prescribe diuretics, drugs that increase the urination rate
which causes the body to expel more fluid, and thus to
reduce swelling in your legs.

Many foods are also natural diuretics --they make you
urinate --- including coffee and other fluids containing
caffeine, and fruits such as blueberries, cherries, grapes
and pineapples.

Breathing Problems During Sleep Linked to Leg

Continue reading  page 1   page 2

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Horse chestnut extract can help heal many cases of swollen legs.
horse chestnuts can help reduce swollen legs
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