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Swollen Legs & Feet During a Heat Wave

author image Kristin Shea
Kristin Shea has been writing professionally since 2008. Her fitness works include a yoga manual and Skincare News. She has acquired extensive legal writing experience during more than 10 years of legal practice. Shea is a licensed attorney and certified yoga instructor. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from University of Florida and a Juris Doctor from University of Miami Law School.
Swollen Legs & Feet During a Heat Wave
Swelling in legs and feet can occur during hot weather. Photo Credit Sun boat image by Scotcam from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Along with summer days come barbecues, pools, beaches and lazy afternoons. But when the heat sizzles, the body reacts. During hot weather, many people experience excessive water retention, or put more plainly, swelling. Because of the effect of gravity, the swelling becomes more pronounced and obvious in the feet, ankles and legs. Although usually temporary, swollen legs can be an uncomfortable side effect of summer. Fortunately, a few simple steps can reduce this summer hazard.

Anatomy of Swollen Legs

Swelling of the legs and feet is called peripheral edema. This type of mild, painless swelling is common. When the swelling is heat-related, it is referred to as heat edema. Heat edema occurs when heat causes the blood vesicles to dilate while the person remains in a prolonged upright sitting or standing position. As a result, fluids pool in the legs.

Risk Factors

Peripheral edema is common and usually more uncomfortable than serious. Certain individuals, such as older people, pregnant women, menstruating women, and those who are overweight are more prone to water retention. They may want to take extra precautions to prevent occurrence during hot weather.

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To prevent heat-related swelling, avoid the heat as much as possible. Keeping the body cool will reduce vasodilation in the legs, and thus the saturation of fluids in the legs. Equally important, avoid prolonged sitting or standing. Immobility causes fluids to pool in the feet, ankles and legs.

If a situation such as a long car, train or plane ride requires prolonged sitting, it is important to take brief exercise breaks. Taking a short walk is ideal. If walking is not possible, doing leg or calf raises can help. Since salt promotes water retention, limiting salt intake during hot weather can help the body maintain a healthy balance.


Swelling in the legs can typically be relieved by home care. Since an upright posture is one of the factors in heat edema, eliminating that factor can help ease swelling. Elevating the legs counters the effects of gravity on the feet, ankles and legs, allowing fluids to drain out of the legs. Exercise helps the heart pump fluids out of the legs. Brief walking and simple leg movements can ease the swelling. Support stockings may also reduce swelling.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

Although swollen legs are common, it may be a sign of a more serious condition. An individual may require medical care if swollen legs coincides with fever, decrease in urination or history of a liver condition. A pregnant woman should talk to her doctor if swelling increases suddenly or substantially. In addition, an individual should seek medical attention if self-help treatments don’t reduce the swelling. Call 911 if shortness of breath or chest pain occurs with swelling in the legs.

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