Leg edema or swelling, also called peripheral edema, is a common problem especially among the elderly. There are general treatments that people can try to help alleviate leg edema; however, treating the cause of the edema will provide the best results. Leg edema can occur because of heart problems, poor peripheral circulation, or from fluid retention because of kidney disease. People who stand or sit all day often suffer from leg swelling.
Treat Underlying Causes
According to Donna D. Ignatavicius, M.S. R.N., and M. Linda Workman, Ph.D, authors of the 2006 edition of "Medical-Surgical Nursing--Critical Thinking for Collaborative Care" textbook, conditions like heart disease and kidney failure can cause leg edema. Taking medications as prescribed and following treatment protocols outlined by your physician will help minimize leg edema that occurs as a symptom of an underlying health problem. For benign leg swelling, other treatments may be sufficient.
Elevating the legs is an easy way to help decrease leg swelling. Scott and White Hospital patient education information advises that you raise your legs above the level of your heart when you lie down. If possible, raise your feet on an ottoman or recliner when sitting. When you go to bed, raise your lower legs on a pillow.
If you stand or sit for long periods of time, make sure to take breaks and move around. When you stand a long time, blood pools in your lower legs. When you sit for a long time, you compress the major blood vessels in your legs, interfering with normal circulation. Change positions frequently and walk around to allow for adequate circulation.
The American Association of Family Physicians suggests using support stockings to help control leg swelling. You can purchase support hose at the supermarket or local drug store. If you have a lot of leg swelling or a problem with peripheral circulation, your physician may prescribe support hose. Support stockings help compress peripheral blood vessels thereby improving the return circulation to the heart, helping to decrease leg edema.
Low Salt Diet
Too much sodium will cause fluid retention. Following a low salt diet will help reduce fluid retention and lower leg edema.
Being overweight or obese can cause problems with circulation. Controlling your weight can help minimize leg swelling.
Avoid Restrictive Clothing
Avoid wearing restrictive or tight clothing. Anything that interferes with normal circulation can cause a problem with peripheral edema.
Sometimes physicians will prescribe a diuretic to help remove extra fluid from the body. People who have heart disease and kidney disease often require diuretics to help treat leg edema.
- "Medical-Surgical Nursing--Critical Thinking for Collaborative Care"; Donna D. Ignatavicius M.S., R.N., & M. Linda Workman Ph.D; 2006
- Scott and White Hospital: Foot, Leg, and Ankle Swelling
- FamilyDoctor.org: Edema