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What causes my legs to swell?

ANSWER

Your legs swell for two main reasons:

  • Fluid buildup (edema). It happens when the tissues or blood vessels in your legs hold more fluid than they should. This can happen if you simply spend a long day on your feet, or sit for too long. But it may also be a sign that you’re overweight or don’t get enough exercise, or of more serious medical conditions.
  • Inflammation. It happens when the tissues in your leg get irritated and swollen. It’s a natural response if you break a bone or tear a tendon or ligament, but it also may be a sign of more serious inflammatory illness, like arthritis.

SOURCES:

Alicia Groft, MD, associate professor of medicine, Dartmouth Medical School.

CDC: "National Chronic Kidney Disease Fact Sheet."

Ely, J.W. , March-April 2006. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine

March of Dimes: "Swelling."

Mayo Clinic: “Leg Swelling.”

National Blood Clot Alliance: "Signs and Symptoms of Blood Clots." 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Failure?"

National Institutes of Health: "Varicose Veins and Venous Insufficiency."

Nationwide Children's Hospital: "Swelling: The Body's Reaction to Injury."

Reviewed by Suzanne R. Steinbaum on May 3, 2018

SOURCES:

Alicia Groft, MD, associate professor of medicine, Dartmouth Medical School.

CDC: "National Chronic Kidney Disease Fact Sheet."

Ely, J.W. , March-April 2006. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine

March of Dimes: "Swelling."

Mayo Clinic: “Leg Swelling.”

National Blood Clot Alliance: "Signs and Symptoms of Blood Clots." 

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Heart Failure?"

National Institutes of Health: "Varicose Veins and Venous Insufficiency."

Nationwide Children's Hospital: "Swelling: The Body's Reaction to Injury."

Reviewed by Suzanne R. Steinbaum on May 3, 2018

NEXT QUESTION:

How can you tell if deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and thrombophlebitis is causing your legs to swell?

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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

    This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.