What Causes Legs and Ankles to Swell?
There are multiple causes of swollen legs and ankles. Some, like injury and infection, are fairly obvious, but there are other underlying health issues you may not be able to see that can cause your legs and ankles to swell. One health issue that requires evaluation and treatment from a medical professional is varicose veins, which when left untreated can cause venous edema.
Venous edema is the chronic swelling of the legs, ankles, or feet caused blood pooling in the veins. Swollen legs and ankles can indicate that you have an underlying disease such as venous insufficiency (also known as vein disease), lymph node problems, or a kidney condition.
Edema from venous insufficiency is the most common cause of swollen legs, affecting over 90% of cases. Chronic swelling is not the only symptom of vein disease. Other notable symptoms include
- leg pain,
- leg skin discoloration,
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- itchy legs,
- burning of legs,
- leg heaviness, or
- venous ulcers.
Swelling may involve one or both legs. If only one leg has swollen, this may indicate a serious blockage known as May-Thurner Syndrome. If you have these symptoms, you should reach out to a vein specialist for further evaluation.
How Swelling in the Legs and Ankles Can Cause Ulcers
With many other cases of edema, people may not experience painful symptoms. However, edema caused by venous insufficiency may involve tenderness, ulceration, and other painful symptoms. This is because the pressure and swelling may increase until the tiniest blood vessels in the legs, known as capillaries, burst. When this happens, the skin above these vessels may take on a brownish color which can be very sensitive to the touch.
If the burst capillaries are left untreated, they can cause local tissue inflammation and internal tissue damage. This happens because venous insufficiency, chronic swelling, and ulceration are all progressive disorders. Tissue damage can cause full-blown ulcers, and these non-healing wounds can become infected.
Diagnosing Venous Insufficiency
Even though the cause of swollen legs could be due to many factors, vein disease can be one of them. There are multiple risk factors, such as age, weight, and high blood pressure, that increase the likelihood that your swollen legs and ankles are due to underlying venous insufficiency.
Some vein disease cases, however, are not always visible to the eye. That is why it’s important to seek out expert care for diagnosis. Varicose veins can cause leg swelling, and when left untreated they can lead to further health complications. Minimally invasive, diagnostic techniques serve as important tools in determining the severity of the root cause of your leg swelling.
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination, ask about your health and family histories, and they may recommend further imaging tests to evaluate the severity of your symptoms. Often, a vein specialist will use an ultrasound to map out your veins to determine the extent of your vein disease. They are also able to accurately detect blood clots to prevent serious conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Treatment for Swollen Legs
Vein specialists will often use a combination of vein treatment and lifestyle changes to treat people with swollen legs due to venous insufficiency. Elevating your legs after standing for long periods of time can help temporarily reduce some swelling; however, minimally invasive treatments, such as Endovenous Laser Treatment (EVLT) or Ultrasound-Guided Sclerotherapy (USGS), will treat the cause of your swollen legs. Vein treatment can greatly reduce swelling and other symptoms you may be experiencing.
At USA Vein Clinics, we believe that vein treatment should be convenient and accessible. If you or a loved one is struggling with chronic swelling of the legs, call us at 888-768-3467 or schedule an appointment online to start your journey to a healthier, less painful life.