Swollen legs

Specialty of Surgery

Are swollen legs a sign of a serious problem?

There are many possible causes of swollen legs, and in the case of a wound or fracture, the swelling is likely to resolve on its own. However, you should seek urgent medical help if you experience:

  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • dizziness or fainting

If you’ve injured your leg, you should visit your doctor if:

  • you think you may have fractured your leg
  • the swelling is getting worse
  • you have fever

You should also seek help if you experience swelling in one leg without an injury, as this may be a sign of deep vein thrombosis.

What causes swollen legs?

Swollen legs caused by the build-up of fluid is called oedema, and has a number of possible causes:

Swelling in the legs can also occur as a result of inflammation. A wide range of leg injuries can cause inflammation, including:

Finally, inflammation can also occur as a result of long-term conditions including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis and gout.

How are swollen legs diagnosed and treated?

Your doctor will ask how long you have had swelling in your legs, what the pain is like, and if you have any other symptoms. You will also be asked about what medication you take and any existing long-term conditions you have.

If you have had an injury, you might be referred for an X-ray or CT scan to examine the bones and tissues in your legs.

How can swollen legs be prevented?

You can reduce your risk of injuries by taking care to warm up properly before exercise, and by seeing a physiotherapist to ensure your form and movement is correct.

To reduce the risk of fluid pooling in your legs, it’s important to:

  • avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time – if you are on a long-distance flight you should make sure you get up regularly to maintain good circulation in your legs, or wear compression stockings
  • lose weight if you’re overweight to reduce the risk of kidney or heart disease
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