Heat Edema: How To Manage Leg Swelling In The Heat

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person with legs floating in water

How to Manage Leg Swelling in the Heat?

Summer is the most awaited and cherished season of the year for most people. It reminds me of barbecues, beaches, pools,  watermelon, popsicles, and lazy afternoons. Doesn’t everything just feel better in the summer? While the love for this season is undeniable, summer weather also means swollen feet and ankles for some people.

When the temperature goes up, many of us experience what is commonly known as heat edema, where our body swells in the heat due to water retention.  Read on to discover why leg swelling often worsens in the summer heat and what you can do about it.

What is Heat Edema?

Swelling is caused by excess fluid trapped in your body’s tissues.  Heat edema is specifically the swelling that occurs when temperatures are high. Researchers at the University of Michigan stated that “heat causes the blood vessels to expand (dilate), so body fluid moves into the hands or legs by gravity.”  This fluid accumulation can make your skin tight and appear shiny.

This means that due to the gravitational pull, swelling is more obvious in your lower body extremities, which may be temporary but can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, may need medical attention.

And there you have it — why your feet and ankles swell in the heat.

two people walking on beach

What Causes Heat Edema and Who Is At Risk?

Heat edema usually occurs when we are not used to being in hot climates.  Our bodies have not had time to acclimate to the high temperatures and may suffer. The tiny blood vessels known as the capillaries expand due to heat. This causes fluid buildup in nearby tissues leading to swelling in the body, especially the legs and ankles, which is the most common heat edema symptom. Rising temperatures are not the only cause of edema. Other reasons for getting edema include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Premenstrual symptoms
  • Too much salt content in your diet
  • Sitting or standing in one place/position or too long
  • Side effects of certain medications such as for blood pressure, diabetes, steroids, estrogens, pain, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Certain medical conditions and illnesses, which include congestive heart failure, kidney, lung, thyroid, and liver diseases
  • Chronic venous insufficiency
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

Apart from the causes mentioned above, people who are overweight are at a higher risk of heat edema due to their tendency to hold more water. 

Additionally, older people are more prone to exhibit heat edema symptoms in their later stages of life. As for the young or healthy, active individuals with no underlying health concerns can also develop heat edema. Their risk of heat-related swelling may be caused by extensive workouts outside in high temperatures or lack of air-conditioning in gyms. It is important to keep an eye out for symptoms of heat edema to be able to get immediate relief. 

Symptoms Of Heat Edema

The most obvious heat edema symptom  is leg and foot swelling. Other important symptoms may include:

  • Swelling or puffiness of the tissue directly under your skin, especially in your legs or arms
  • Stretch or shiny skin
  • Skin that retains a dimple (pits), after being pressed for several seconds
  • Increased abdominal size
  • Heaviness in your legs

Heat edema treatment requires certain lifestyle and environmental changes that can be achieved easily. Edema is not just heat related and can occur due to other issues. The following symptoms are signs that your edema might have different underlying causes: 

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms with edema or swelling in your legs and feet, this may be a sign of venous insufficiency. We suggest you schedule an appointment with one of our vein specialists to check for any early signs of vein disease.


Are Varicose Veins and Heat Edema Connected?

Heat edema and varicose veins are two conditions that can be interconnected, especially in warmer climates or during hot weather. Heat edema refers to the swelling of the lower extremities, such as the ankles and feet, due to increased fluid retention caused by heat. When exposed to high temperatures, the blood vessels in the legs can dilate, leading to increased pressure within the veins. This, in turn, may exacerbate the underlying varicose veins, causing them to become more noticeable and potentially leading to discomfort and pain.

The combination of heat edema and varicose veins can create a challenging situation for individuals, as the swelling from heat edema may add additional strain to the already weakened and enlarged varicose veins. To mitigate the effects of these conditions, it is advisable to stay hydrated, avoid prolonged exposure to heat, elevate the legs when possible, and seek medical advice for appropriate treatment options if symptoms persist.

How To Prevent Leg Swelling 

The best way to avoid swelling due to heat and avoid symptoms of heat edema is to stay out of hot temperatures. If you live in a climate where that is not an option, try to stay in cooler areas as much as possible.

In addition, staying hydrated will help keep overheating and pooling issues at bay. Be sure to move regularly and never spend too much time sitting or standing in one place, as this is known to cause uncomfortable leg swelling.

Treatment For Heat Edema

Sometimes,  heat edema treatment can be as simple as elevating your feet and lowering your salt intake. Other symptoms of heat edema may be resolved by finding substitutes for certain medications, cooling off when the swelling occurs, and taking care of your overall health. 

However, if that is not proving to be enough, your heat edema may be a sign of chronic venous insufficiency or vein disease. Mild symptoms of venous insufficiency may be alleviated by using compression stockings, but if the symptoms are severe along with discomfort, you may need vein treatment. At USA Vein Centers, we treat chronic venous insufficiency through a procedure called endovenous ablation. This treatment is used to collapse or close damaged veins so that blood can be directed to healthy veins.

If you are experiencing swelling in your legs, feet, and ankles along with pain, discomfort, and the symptoms mentioned above, contact a vein specialist for a screening to improve your vein health.

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Medically Reviewed By:

Yan Katsnelson 2 M drive 1 1

Dr. Yan Katsnelson is a philanthropist, business owner, and highly skilled cardiac surgeon. He is the Founder and CEO of USA Vein Clinics, which is part of USA Clinics Group, the parent company of USA Fibroid Centers, USA Vascular Centers, and USA Oncology Centers, with more than 100 facilities nationwide. Dr. Yan has established himself as a strong advocate for accessibility and affordability of the most advanced medical care close to home. His mission is to create a positive experience for each patient with compassionate, personalized, and expert care.

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