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What Causes Swelling in Your Lower Legs?

Puffy ankles. Tight, itchy skin on your calves. Whether you wake up in the morning with these symptoms or you notice them after a long day standing on your feet, you know that swollen legs can be painful and uncomfortable.

These are just a few of the most common symptoms of swollen legs, and there are many possible causes. At Memphis Vein Center in Memphis, Tennessee, Kishore Arcot, MD, and our team provide comprehensive cardiology and vein care. If you’re bothered by puffy, swollen legs, we’re here to help you find ways to relieve your discomfort and improve your health.

The main reasons for leg swelling

There are two main reasons for leg swelling: inflammation and fluid retention. 


Inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury, and pain often comes along with the swelling. Some causes of inflammation include acute injuries, such as a broken bone or sprained ankle, and certain health conditions, such as arthritis.

Fluid retention

Another common reason for leg swelling is fluid retention. Known medically as peripheral edema, this type of swelling develops when too much fluid collects in the leg tissues. Fluid retention can make legs look puffy and discolored, and it can also make them feel numb, tight, heavy, or itchy.

Peripheral edema could be a symptom of a venous problem, a lymphatic system problem, or a kidney problem. These systems move fluid throughout your body, but certain health issues can impede this flow and cause blood or other fluids to build up and pool in your legs.

Possible causes for fluid retention

If you have edema, the swelling in your lower legs might be due to any of the following issues:

Deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis is a condition that develops when a blood clot forms in a vein that’s deep inside your body. They’re common in the pelvis, thighs, and lower legs.

Some people with deep vein thrombosis don’t notice any symptoms, but the condition can cause swelling in your feet and ankles, leg cramping, and pain in your feet or ankles. Deep vein thrombosis is a serious medical condition, because the clot could break free, travel to your heart, and cause a pulmonary embolism.

May-Thurner syndrome

May-Thurner syndrome is a condition in which the right iliac artery lies on top of the left iliac artery and compresses it. This can lead to swelling in the left leg. 

May-Thurner syndrome could increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis in your left leg. If you develop deep vein thrombosis, you might experience swelling, pain, or changes in skin color on your left leg.


Lymphedema is a type of swelling that’s caused by problems in the lymphatic system. Your lymph nodes filter lymphatic fluid from your body, but blockages in your lymphatic system can lead to fluid retention.

Lymphedema often starts with mild swelling, but it can get more severe over time. Symptoms often include swelling in the legs and feet as well as sensations of aching and heaviness in the limbs. 

Acute swelling

Everyone can experience leg swelling from time to time, and it’s not always a sign of an underlying condition. Sitting or standing still for long periods of time, eating a diet high in salt, or being overweight or obese can cause acute fluid buildup and leg swelling.

Mild swelling in your lower legs or ankles that goes away within a day or so shouldn’t be a cause for concern. But, it’s important to recognize when leg swelling could indicate a more serious medical condition. Seek medical care if your legs are swollen for several days, or if you notice other symptoms, such as the following:

Dr. Arcot and our team specialize in identifying the root causes of leg swelling. We use ultrasound to evaluate our patients’ vascular health and diagnose their conditions, and we can help you find a treatment plan that fits your needs.

If you have swollen legs and want treatment, we can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Memphis Vein Center today.

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