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Leg edema Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

The edema legs are often a symptom of an underlying disease. It is manifested by swelling  that is to say by an accumulation of liquids in the space between the cells of the tissues under the skin. Swelling can affect one leg but more often both.

Edema is usually related to a malfunction of the blood system, including veins . Indeed, when the small blood vessels called capillaries are subjected to too much pressure or they are damaged, they can let liquids, mainly water, escape into the surrounding tissues.

When the capillaries leak, there is less fluid inside the blood system. The kidneys detect this situation and compensate by retaining more sodium and water, which increases the amount of fluid in the body and causes even more water to flee further from the capillaries. It follows a  swelling  of the tissues.

Edema can also be the result of poor circulation of the lymph , a clear fluid circulating throughout the body that is responsible for removing toxins and wastes from the metabolism.

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Causes of Leg edema

Edema can occur because of a person’s state of health, as a consequence of an underlying disease or the taking of certain medications:

  • When standing or sitting too long, especially in hot weather;
  • When a woman is  pregnant . Her uterus can put pressure on the vena cava, a blood vessel that carries blood from the legs to the heart. In pregnant women, leg edema may also have a more serious origin:  preeclampsia ;
  • Heart failure;
  • The venous insufficiency (which is sometimes accompanied by varices);
  • Obstruction of the veins (phlebitis);
  • In cases of chronic lung diseases (emphysema, chronic bronchitis, etc.). These diseases increase the pressure in the blood vessels, producing an accumulation of fluids in the legs and feet;
  • In the case of kidney disease ;
  • In the case of cirrhosis of the liver ;
  • Following an accident or surgery ;
  • Due to a malfunction of the lymphatic system ;
  • After absorption of certain drugs , such as those that dilate blood vessels, as well as estrogen , nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or calcium antagonists.

When to consult?

The edema in the legs is not serious in itself, it is often a reflection of a relatively benign condition. Nevertheless, it is necessary to consult so that the doctor determines the cause and proposes a treatment if necessary.

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Symptoms of Leg edema

  • Swelling of one or both lower limbs;
  • Stiffness or heaviness in the legs;
  • Difficulty walking
  • itching of the skin;
  • Skin stretched and shiny;
  • Bucket-shaped pressure mark left on skin when pressed with thumb.

Edema of the legs: people at risk

  • Women (especially during pregnancy and menstruation );
  • People suffering from chronic diseases , such as heart failure, chronic lung diseases, venous diseases, kidney disease and cirrhosis of the liver;
  • People under certain medications , such as estrogens , over-the- counter pain relievers (eg, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs), diabetes medications or high blood pressure.

Prevention of leg edema

Can we prevent edema of the legs?
If the problem is not too advanced, it is often possible to prevent or reduce leg edema by simple measures  : walking, compression garments, reduced salt intake, elevation of limbs.

If edema is related to an underlying disease , the only way to avoid it is to treat or prevent the disease.

Basic preventive measures
  • The walking is often the best way to prevent a slight edema of the legs. If you have to sit for a long time, as is the case during long flights, get up and walk a few minutes every hour;
  • Keeping your legs elevated above the heart for 30 minutes is usually enough to decrease swelling if the edema is not too severe.
Measures to prevent aggravation
  • Avoid sudden changes in temperature as they can aggravate edema;
  • Avoid showers and hot baths, as well as saunas and whirlpools.

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Medical treatments of leg edema

Treatment of leg edema usually requires treatment of the underlying disease or problem.

In addition to recommending   basic preventive measures , your doctor may prescribe diuretics (thiazide, furosemide [Lasix], and spironolactone) and a low-salt diet  to help eliminate unwanted  fluids. However, diuretics are not indicated for all patients, including pregnant women and those with venous insufficiency. Of course, if edema is caused by taking an NSAID or medication to treat high blood pressure, it can be stopped on doctor’s advice.

The doctor may also recommend keeping your legs elevated or wearing compression stockings to prevent fluid build-up.

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