Under normal conditions, the piping of our bloodstream does a good job keeping fluids where they’re supposed to be. If you’ve noticed puffiness and swelling in your legs or ankles, however, you might have a leak in a pipe—a condition known as edema.
In simple terms, edema is simply what happens when more fluid than usual from “leaky” blood vessels gets trapped in your body tissues just beneath the skin, causing pockets of puffy swelling. Although this can happen anywhere on your body, feet and ankles are a common target. While edema is usually nothing to worry about in and of itself, it may signal an underlying condition that needs to be addressed.
Charting the Common Causes
Most causes of edema are fairly pedestrian. For example, relatively minor injuries such as twisted ankles or bee stings commonly result in this characteristic swelling, and in such cases edema is actually beneficial—those leaky vessels distribute more white blood cells to the affected area, preventing and fighting infection. Pregnancy is another common cause, as the extra pressure from a growing womb plus a higher overall blood volume combine, resulting in mild lower-leg swelling.
That said, the causes are not always so benign. Edema can indicate the presence of allergic reactions, adverse reactions to medication, infections, various forms of heart and cardiovascular disease (including congestive heart failure), kidney disease, liver disease, and other conditions.
Most swelling from edema is relatively painless. In severe cases, however, there can be significant discomfort. Swelling in the legs related to heart disease, for example, may add 5 pounds to each leg, inhibiting proper blood flow and leading to heightened risk of wounds and infection—not to mention making walking much more difficult.
Chronic, untreated edema can lead to complications such as stiffness, scarring, itchy skin, ulcers, decreased circulation, decreased vascular elasticity, and pain.
Treating the Trouble Spots
Mild swelling will usually go away on its own. To help it along, try elevating the affected area about heart level, or using an ice pack. If you’re pregnant, compression stockings may also help.
Edema associated with an underlying cause, such as heart disease, is often managed by addressing the primary condition—antihistamines for allergies, surgery for a tumor or other obstruction, medication adjustments, etc. Other commonly prescribed treatments include prescription diuretics (“water pills”), blood thinners, and dietary modifications, particularly sodium restrictions.
When Swelling is Significant, Visit Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic
If you’re sick of the swelling, especially if it’s chronic or painful, stop in to see Dr. Darren Silvester of Next Step Foot & Ankle Clinic today. He’ll be able to check your symptoms, diagnose any underlying conditions that may be contributing to your puffiness or discomfort, and then put you on the best treatment plan for your specific circumstances.
To schedule an appointment, contact us online or dial our Pleasanton, TX office at 830-569-3338.