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Causes of Swollen Lower Legs & Feet

author image Elle Paula
Elle Paula has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.
Causes of Swollen Lower Legs & Feet
Swollen lower legs and feet usually indicate problems with the major organs.

When swelling occurs in both legs and feet, it usually indicates damage to the organs or one of the organ systems, rather than direct injury to the leg. The swelling often occurs as a result of excess fluid buildup in the body, a condition referred to as edema. The lower legs and feet are common areas of swelling because of the effects of gravity, notes MedlinePlus.

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The lymphatic system is the part of the immune system that aids in fighting infection. The lymphatic system sends lymph fluid throughout the body to pick up harmful substances such as bacteria, viruses and waste products. The lymph fluid then brings the harmful substances to the lymph nodes, where they are filtered from the lymph fluid and eventually completely eliminated from the body. Lymphedema occurs when the lymph nodes do not work properly and lymph fluid and harmful substance accumulate in the lymph nodes. The arm and leg are the most commonly affected areas of the body. When the fluid accumulates, it causes the arms and lower legs and feet to swell. The swelling can range from mild enlargement to so severe that it causes walking difficulty.

Lymphedema can occur as a result of genetic disorders, or more commonly, damage to the lymph nodes caused by surgery, infection, radiation therapy or cancer, according to Treatment for lymphedema usually consists of medications, massages, exercises and compression stockings.


Cirrhosis is a condition characterized by excessive scarring of the liver due to gradual damage over time. When harmful substances are ingested, the tissues in the liver become damaged. The liver repairs itself with scar tissue instead of healthy tissue. When the liver is consistently exposed to harmful substances, the scar tissue begins to take up more liver area than the healthy tissue, which causes the liver to lose its functions. When the liver cannot function properly, fluid begins to accumulate in the body. This causes edema in the legs and feet. Other symptoms of cirrhosis include swelling of the abdomen, abdominal pain, confusion, nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds, blood in stools, weakness, weight loss and jaundice.

The most common causes of cirrhosis are hepatitis C and chronic alcohol abuse, says MedlinePlus. Other possible causes include medications, metabolic disorders, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and chronic inflammation of the liver. The first step in treating cirrhosis is a series of lifestyle changes that include cessation of alcohol use and following a salt-restricted diet. Those with severe swelling may take diuretics or restrict fluid intake as well.


The pericardium is a thin sac that covers the heart in order to protect it and keep it in place. Pericarditis is a condition in which the pericardium becomes inflamed. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the inflammation usually happens suddenly and can last for months. Fluid may also accumulate between the layers of the pericardium, which causes fluid to surround the heart. Symptoms of pericarditis include chest pain; difficulty breathing; a dry cough; swelling of the feet, legs and ankles; anxiety; and fatigue.

The most common cause of pericarditis is a viral infection, but the inflammation may also occur as a result of autoimmune diseases, chest injury, genetic diseases, kidney failure or tumors. Most cases of pericarditis can be effectively treated with a combination of anti-inflammatory medications and pain relievers.

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