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Why Your Feet Swell
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Why Are My Feet Swollen? 

Peripheral edema is a common issue affecting millions of Americans every year. The primary risk factor for peripheral edema is age. In the United States, roughly 20% of people aged 54 and over may have peripheral edema.

Peripheral edema is a condition that causes swelling in the arms and legs due to the accumulation of fluid in the tissues. This fluid is usually a combination of water, proteins, and electrolytes that have leaked out of the small blood vessels in the body. This fluid can then become trapped in the tissues, leading to swelling.

Edema can be a symptom of vein disease, although it is more commonly seen in people who are elderly, overweight, or have congestive heart failure. Several other conditions can also cause peripheral edema.

Swelling due to lymphedema

Lymphedema is a type of chronic edema caused by a lymphatic system disorder. The disease causes swelling in the limbs due to an abnormal accumulation of lymph fluid. 

Edema and lymphedema exhibit similar symptoms. They are both characterized by an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the legs. There are two broad categories of lymphedema: primary lymphedema and secondary lymphedema.

Primary lymphedema is the result of a lymphatic defect. This defect can be inherited or acquired, affecting any body part. It can be acquired through trauma, infection, or surgery.

Secondary lymphedema is caused by factors outside of a defect in the lymphatic system. It can be caused by cancer, radiation therapy, surgery, or infection. It is also more likely to affect the upper and lower extremities. In contrast, primary lymphedema can affect any part of the body.

Multiple factors, such as surgery, radiation therapy, injury, infection, or genetics, can cause lymphedema. Symptoms of lymphedema include swelling, heaviness, and a feeling of tightness in the affected area. Treatment options include compression garments, manual lymphatic drainage, exercise, and surgery.

Not every case of swollen legs is due to lymphedema. Here are some other common – sometimes severe causes.

Excessive Sodium

Consuming too much sodium can contribute to fluid retention, leading to swelling. Salt, a common ingredient in processed foods, is the main contributor to sodium intake. Limiting salt consumption is essential to maintain a healthy fluid balance and reduce swelling.

Poor Circulation

Restricted blood flow can contribute to swelling in the feet. This response can occur due to underlying health conditions such as peripheral artery disease (PAD) or varicose veins. Improving your circulation through regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking can help to improve blood flow and reduce swelling.


Swelling of the feet during pregnancy, also known as pregnancy edema, is common and normal. Uterine growth and fluctuating hormones can increase blood volume and fluid retention during pregnancy. It typically subsides after delivery, but specific measures can be taken to reduce swelling, such as wearing comfortable and supportive footwear, elevating your feet, and limiting your salt intake.


Foot injuries, such as sprains, strains, or fractures, can cause immediate swelling. This swelling is the body's natural response to control bleeding, limit inflammation, and promote healing. Swelling typically subsides over time, but following your doctor's recommendations is essential to ensure proper recovery and reduce the risk of further complications.

Standing or Sitting for Long Periods of Time

Prolonged sitting or standing can lead to fluid accumulation in the feet, resulting in swelling. This is particularly common in people with jobs requiring extended standing or sitting hours, such as teachers and healthcare professionals. Regular breaks, elevating your feet, and wearing compression stockings can help decrease swelling and improve blood flow.

Foot or Ankle Cysts

Ganglion cysts, fluid-filled sacs, can develop in the feet or ankles, leading to swelling. Cysts are usually benign but can become increasingly uncomfortable if they grow or rupture. They may require surgery or other treatments to resolve.


Infections, such as cellulitis or osteomyelitis, can cause swelling in the feet and legs. These infections typically present with redness, tenderness, and warmth around the affected region. A timely diagnosis and treatment are vital to avoid serious complications.


The use of particular medications like steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and blood pressure medications can trigger fluid retention as a side effect. It is essential to discuss any medication-related side effects with your doctor to determine whether alternative medications are available.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, can contribute to swelling in the feet and ankles. The inflammation associated with IBD can disrupt the normal fluid balance, leading to water retention and swelling. Managing IBD through medication and lifestyle changes can help to reduce swelling and improve overall comfort.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

One of the reasons feet swell is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), an occurrence of blood clots in the deep veins. The clot can disrupt blood flow and cause swelling in the feet and other parts of the body. Symptoms of DVT include pain, redness, and swelling in the affected area.

Swelling in the legs and feet – particularly when accompanied by painful, debilitating symptoms – is not something you should ignore. If you have concerning signs of edema, please visit the compassionate, dedicated specialists at Georgia Endovascular. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.

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