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Why Are My Legs Swollen?

legs swollen

Swollen lower legs happen for a variety of non-serious reasons, from standing up for too long to flying across the country to eating an excess of salty snacks. These activities can cause fluid to build up in the tissues of your legs, resulting in a puffy appearance. 

However, if you’re asking yourself, “Why are my legs swollen?” and none of these scenarios apply to you, it may be time to seek help from a vascular doctor. Swollen legs and ankles can be a sign of a serious condition called peripheral artery disease, or PAD. This condition is caused by plaque accumulation in the arteries leading to your legs and feet. PAD causes blood and fluid flow restrictions that can lead to swelling. At USA Vascular Centers, our trusted team is here to help treat swollen legs and feet, as well as other symptoms that can develop as a result of PAD.


Main Causes of Swollen Legs 

Peripheral Artery Disease

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) can cause swollen lower legs, feet, and ankles because it affects the vascular system in the lower limbs.4, 5 Other PAD symptoms to watch out for include pain in the legs while walking, shiny skin on the legs or feet, open sores that fail to heal, and slowed leg hair or toenail growth. 

Congestive Heart Failure, Liver Damage, and Kidney Disease

PAD isn’t the only reason you might be experiencing swollen legs and feet; there are many potential causes of swollen legs.1 In the absence of an injury, swollen legs and feet can be the result of various health issues. 

Congestive heart failure affects your heart’s ability to pump blood and can cause blood to pool in your lower limbs. Liver damage (cirrhosis) can cause fluid to build up in the abdomen and legs. Kidney disease often results in excess sodium and fluids in your circulatory system, causing your legs to appear swollen

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Vascular damage in the lower limbs can also contribute to swollen legs and feet. If the vascular system is damaged, it can’t effectively carry blood to the heart, leading to the buildup of blood in the legs. If you notice that one of your legs becomes painful and swollen but the other looks normal, seek emergency medical care. This can be a sign of a blood clot in the vascular system (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT), a life-threatening condition requiring immediate treatment. 


Sometimes the cause of swollen legs is lymphedema, a condition in which the lymphatic system struggles to drain extra fluid from your tissues. This condition may be genetic, but it is more commonly caused by cancer surgery that removes or injures the lymph nodes.


Swollen legs and feet can also occur due to inflammation in the leg joints or tissues from an injury or disease. Common injuries that lead to leg inflammation include sprained ankle, broken ankle or foot, broken leg, inflammation in the knee, skin infection, and burns. 

Peripheral Edema

Your legs may also get swollen due to a condition known as peripheral edema, in which small blood vessels in your legs leak fluid into the nearby tissue, causing swelling. This could happen due to problems with your circulatory system, lymph nodes, heart muscles, kidneys, or liver.

In addition to causing swollen legs and ankles, peripheral edema can make your skin look shiny and stretched out, like an overinflated balloon. Another classic sign of peripheral edema is pitting. If you press your finger into your skin, a small indentation, or pit, is left behind. 

See a doctor as soon as possible if you experience any signs of peripheral edema. If you develop shortness of breath, chest pain, or difficulty breathing, seek emergency care. These symptoms could be a sign of pulmonary edema, or fluid buildup in the lungs.3

Medications and Pregnancy

In addition to these more serious causes of swollen legs, common reasons for swollen lower legs include taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), some types of diabetes medications, steroids, estrogens, or high blood pressure medications.

 Pregnancy is also a common cause of swollen legs due to the extra fluids required by the fetus and placenta.

PAD and Complications

PAD occurs due to fat deposits or plaque accumulation on artery walls. The plaque causes impeded blood flow, which means the tissues in your legs and feet can’t get enough nutrients and oxygen from your blood.

This can lead to serious PAD complications, such as gangrene. A severe complication of PAD, gangrene is tissue death due to severely restricted blood flow to the legs and feet. Gangrene can lead to amputation and even death if not treated right away. 

When Should I See a Doctor About Leg Swelling From PAD?

If you have any concerns about your swollen legs, see a doctor as soon as possible. This is especially important if you have kidney, heart, or liver disease, are pregnant, or are experiencing sudden or severe swelling.

If the swelling is accompanied by cramping pain in the leg that doesn’t go away even when you’re sitting down, or you have ulcers on your legs or feet that won’t heal, reach out to a vascular doctor right away. 

These may be signs of advanced PAD. At USA Vascular Centers, our knowledgeable vascular doctors offer several minimally invasive PAD treatments to help open blocked arteries. 

Swollen Legs and PAD Treatment

The appropriate treatment for swollen legs depends on the cause of the symptom. If you believe your legs are swollen for a less-serious reason, like consuming too much salt or sitting for too long, try to reduce the swelling by elevating your legs. You may want to keep a pillow under your legs to feel comfortable. Stay active and avoid wearing restrictive clothing around your thighs, such as garters. Reduce your salt intake, maintain a healthy body weight, and stand up or move around at least once every hour.

Kidney disease, liver damage, congestive heart failure, or PAD may necessitate more intensive swollen legs treatment. Reach out to your doctor to determine the appropriate treatment. The highly recommended doctors at USA Vascular Centers can help treat legs that have become swollen as a result of PAD. 

Non-Surgical PAD Treatment

USA Vascular Centers provides non-surgical PAD treatment through balloon angioplasty, stent placement, and atherectomy procedures. 

Once PAD is diagnosed, the doctor will use a catheter to find the location and size of your blockage. For this, our interventional radiologist will insert a catheter (small thin tube) through a small nick in your groin. The area around the incision will be numbed so that you do not feel any pain. A non-harming dye will be released into your bloodstream, helping the doctor see the location and extent of the blockage through a camera in the catheter.

The doctor will then determine which minimally invasive treatment is appropriate for your situation. A common treatment is balloon angioplasty, which uses a balloon-tipped catheter to compress the plaque against the artery walls. Some angioplasties are followed by a mesh stent placement to prop the artery open. Depending on the extent of the blockage, the doctor may suggest an atherectomy, which involves removing arterial plaque with a laser or blade. 

At USA Vascular Centers, our highly skilled interventional radiologists typically perform these procedures. No general anesthesia or stitches are required, meaning you can recover in the comfort of your own home. If you live out of town, we can arrange lodging accommodations to help you feel at home during your treatment. 

Treatment at USA Vascular Centers

If you have swollen legs and think it may be due to PAD, give us a call or set up a consultation using our online scheduling tool

We have teams of vascular experts at locations nationwide that can help you find relief from painful symptoms using leading-edge, non-surgical treatments. Our state-of-the-art outpatient centers are certified by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC), which is a testament to our commitment to providing high-quality patient care. 

To learn more, give us a call at 888-773-2193. Our doctors look forward to helping ease your symptoms of PAD and leg swelling. 


Sources Cited

  1. “Edema.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, December 1, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/edema/symptoms-causes/syc-20366493
  2. “Lymphedema.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, September 18, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lymphedema/symptoms-causes/syc-20374682
  3. “Edema.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, December 1, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/edema/symptoms-causes/syc-20366493
  4. Team, Staff News. “Peripheral Artery Disease -Pad: Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment (Video): Resource: Baptist Health South Florida.” Resource | Baptist Health South Florida, September 17, 2019. https://baptisthealth.net/baptist-health-news/peripheral-artery-disease-pad-2/.
  5. “Peripheral Artery Disease.” Peripheral Artery Disease Symptoms & Causes | Dignity Health. Accessed November 21, 2022. https://www.dignityhealth.org/conditions-and-treatments/cardiology/peripheral-artery-disease

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