Is Leg Swelling a Sign of Something Serious?

Leg swelling is a common complaint. It can absolutely be a serious sign – and even when its not, leg swelling can often benefit from treatment.

Brown ankles leg swellingLeg swelling can occur in one leg or both.  It can be equal, or worse on one side.  The swelling can be the same all the time, or get worse as the day goes on.  It can be painful or not.  The lower leg skin can look normal, or be red, blue or brown.  These patterns help suggest the cause, and how serious it might be.  Therefore its helpful to understand the common causes and treatment options.

Causes of leg swelling

  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Varicose veins
  • Lymphedema
  • Heart, kidney or liver failure
  • Malnutrition
  • Inactivity
  • Ruptured Baker’s Cyst (related to arthritis of the knee)
  • Cellulitis/infection
  • Pelvic tumors

Acute Leg Swelling

Acute leg swelling is usually a sign something new is going on.  If its just one side, this is one should think of things like DVT, infection and other more serious causes.  If its both sides, it can still be venous, but also one has to consider more medical issues like the heart, liver or kidney, therefore,  its a good idea seek medical attention in these settings.

Chronic Leg Swelling

swollen leg and feetChronic leg swelling is more common.  Patients might say they have trouble putting on their shoes.  Or the skin can get tight, red and painful.  Generally swelling of venous or lymphatic origin gets worse as the day goes on, and is better with leg elevation.

Also, venous and lymphatic can be different in both legs, whereas heart, liver and kidney issues from above may be equal on both sides.  Your care providers can help  you sort out the possible cause of your swelling with a consultation.  If there is any question about it being of venous origin, a consult with a vein specialist can be helpful.

Treatment for Leg Swelling

Treatment depends on the cause.  No matter what the cause, many patients will benefit from leg elevation and compression socks.  Its always best if there is a question about an emergency cause, like a DVT or new onset medical problems, to seek urgent or emergency medical evaluation.

At the Inovia Vein Specialty Centers we specialize in helping patients with leg swelling from possible venous or lymphatic origin map out the optimal treatment options.  Often we will start with advice on conservative approaches, such as exercise elevation and compression hose.  But in some cases, there are options such as Closurefast, Venaseal and Varithena that can be helpful in treating the varicose veins that contribute to leg swelling.


In summary, there are many causes of leg swelling.  Some can be serious, and most benefit from some form of treatment, even if its just compression with stockings.  In particular, there are a number of modern options for varicose vein treatment and these have a track record of being helpful in many cases in reducing swelling.  If there is any question that it might be serious, its best to seek a medical evaluation.

If you are interested in learning more about treatment options for leg swelling, simply fill out our Online Appointment Request Form or call any of our clinics in Northwest Portland , TigardHappy Valley, Hillsboro or Bend, Oregon.

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