Edema and Related Medical Conditions

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Peripheral edema

Related Terms:

Swelling of the ankles - feet - legs; Ankle swelling; Foot swelling; Leg swelling; Edema - peripheral


Peripheral edema is an abnormal build-up of fluids in ankle and leg tissues. See also swelling, overall.


Painless swelling of the feet and ankles is a common problem, particularly in older people. It may affect both legs and may include the calves or even the thighs. Because of the effect of gravity, swelling is particularly noticeable in the lower legs.When squeezed, the fluid will move out of the affected area and may leave a deep impression for a few moments.Swelling of the legs is many times related to systemic causes (for example, heart failure, renal failure, or liver failure).

Common Causes:

Long airplane flights or automobile rides
Menstrual periods (for some women)
Prolonged standing
Injury or trauma to the ankle or foot
Venous insufficiency (varicose veins)
Pregnancy (mild to severe swelling)
Insect bite or sting
Starvation or
Medical treatments
Body fluid overload
Infiltration of an IV site
Extremity surgery
Estrogens and progestin oral contraceptives
Blood pressure-lowering drugs
Certain antidepressants (such as Nardil)
Estrogen - oral
Long-term corticosteroid therapy
Diagnostic tests
Congestive heart failure
Glomerulonephritis or other kinds of kidney disorders

Home Care

Elevate the legs above the heart while lying down. Avoid sitting or standing without moving for prolonged periods of time. Avoid putting anything directly under the knees when lying down, and don't wear constricting clothing or garters on the upper legs.

Exercising the legs causes the fluid to work back into the veins and lymphatic channels so that the swelling goes down. The pressure applied by elastic bandages or support stockings can help reduce ankle swelling.

A low-salt diet may help reduce fluid retention and decrease the ankle swelling.

Call your health care provider if:

Call your health care provider if ankle swelling persists or worsens after the above measures have been taken.

What to expect at your health care provider's office:

The medical history will be obtained and a physical examination performed.

Medical history questions documenting ankle, feet, and leg swelling in detail include:


What specific body part(s) swell?
Is there ankle swelling?
Is the whole foot swollen?
Is there
swelling over the small bones of the feet?
Is there swelling of the toes?
Is the knee swollen?
Is the whole leg swollen?

Time pattern

Is the swelling always present?
Is it worse in the morning or the evening?

Aggravating and relieving factors

What makes it better?
Does the swelling go down when the legs are elevated?
What makes it worse?


What other symptoms are also present?

The physical examination may include emphasis on the heart, lungs, kidneys, and legs.
Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:
Blood tests such as a
CBC or blood chemistry (Chem-20)
Chest X-ray or extremity X-ray


The specific treatment will be directed at whatever underlying cause is found. Diuretics (fluid pills) may be prescribed. These are effective in reducing the swelling but have some side effects. Home treatment for benign causes of leg swelling should be tried before drug therapy under medical supervision.

After seeing your health care provider:

You may want to add a diagnosis related to ankle, feet, and leg swelling to your personal medical record.Last Reviewed: 10/27/2001 by Jeffrey Heit, M.D., Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

Yahoo Health

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See Also:


Arm Lymphedema

Leg Lymphedema

Lymphedema People


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