GHS Cares: Swollen Legs
Have you ever had heavy swollen legs at the end of a long day? Has anyone ever recommended propping your legs up on a pillow or going to bed to ease the swelling? Leg swelling, which is called lower extremity edema in the medical field, is a very common complaint in primary care. There are many different causes and severity levels of leg swelling ranging from a minor pain to needing to be evaluated immediately by a medical provider.
Fact #1 It makes a difference whether the leg swelling is in one or two legs.
One important factor when evaluating leg swelling is whether it is in one or both legs. Sudden swelling in just one leg is concerning and should be evaluated right away by a medical provider, as this can be a sign of a blood clot. Blood clots can be diagnosed via ultrasound. Consult your doctor immediately if you feel you may have this.
Fact #2 For less severe leg swelling due to natural causes, there are various ways you can help prevent and treat it.
If the swelling is not pitting, only around the ankles and present after standing for long periods, it is likely mild-dependent swelling. This happens when the veins are not able to work efficiently to return blood and fluid to the heart. This can occur with age and is worsened by being overweight or pregnant. The best way to prevent this is with compression socks. When we recommend these, many people imagine their grandma’s uncomfortable and not particularly stylish compression hose, but there are many more options for compression socks than there used to be! Many online stores sell knee-high compression socks in fun colors and prints. If you know you are going to be on your feet all day, these can help prevent mild leg swelling and pain. If you have not been able to prevent leg swelling, make sure to elevate your legs above your heart once you get home. Pillows are your friend!
Fact #3 It is important to have your leg swelling evaluated if it appears more severe.
Equal swelling of both legs is usually less urgent. If the swelling occurs in both legs, it’s important to evaluate how far up the leg the swelling is seen. To help test this, you can push on the skin over your shin bone with your finger. If you are able to leave a marked indentation or impression of your finger in your skin this indicates that the swelling is what we call pitting and more severe. If this is the case and your swelling appears severe, extends up your legs, or is pitting, you should make an appointment with your medical provider immediately. Severe swelling of both legs can be caused by many things, including heart and kidney trouble, which your doctor will evaluate. There are also fluid pills, called diuretics, which can be used to treat swelling.
We at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, treat leg swelling frequently. It is a common complaint we hear from our patients and we are happy to help. You may even see us sporting fun compression socks while at work!
Dr. Liz Baltaro and Dr. Amy Nayo are primary care physicians expanding community access to quality pediatric and family medicine at Granville Primary Care, Butner-Creedmoor, located at 1614 NC Highway 56, Butner. To schedule your primary care appointment, please call 919-575-6103 or schedule online at ghshospital.org. You can schedule a primary care appointment with a provider as far as 12 months in advance through online scheduling.