Standing or sitting too long may cause lower leg swelling, or edema, with symptoms like tight shoes and sock marks.
These symptoms may not be a problem if they are mild and don’t happen often. Recurring or worsening lower leg swelling could be a sign of a chronic health problem.
“Swelling in your ankles is abnormal,” said Dr. Michael McGill, a Marshfield Clinic cardiologist. “It needs to be evaluated if it becomes a common problem. Even if it just happens occasionally, you should discuss it with your health care provider.”
High blood pressure is the most common cause
Swelling happens when excess fluid builds up in your lower legs. Edema usually isn’t painful by itself, but wearing shoes and socks may feel uncomfortable if your legs and feet are swollen.
“Sodium retention causes high blood pressure and fluid retention, which is the most common reason for swollen lower legs,” McGill said.
High blood pressure may be accompanied by diastolic dysfunction, a type of heart failure that makes it hard for the heart to pump blood throughout the body. The body responds to insufficient blood flow by holding on to fluid that settles in the lowest parts of the body – usually the legs and feet.
Venous insufficiency is another cardiovascular problem that can cause swelling. Venous insufficiency happens when your leg veins don’t let blood to flow back up to your heart. When valves in your veins don’t work well, blood can collect in your legs and cause painful swelling. This condition also is known for causing varicose veins.
Kidney and liver problems and certain medications also can cause lower leg swelling. Your doctor will run tests to figure out what’s causing the problem.
Solutions for lower leg swelling
“Blood pressure medication and reducing salt in your diet usually help reduce swelling caused by high blood pressure,” McGill said.
Your doctor also may prescribe a diuretic, a medication that helps your body get rid of excess water and salt, to reduce swelling.
Compression stockings and elevating your feet may help reduce swelling caused by venous insufficiency.
Other causes of swelling, such as kidney or liver disease, require condition-specific treatment.