Edema is the swelling of one or both feet, ankles, and/ or legs due to fluid accumulation. It can occur as a result of various medical conditions and is fairly common, particularly in the elderly who may suffer from weakened circulatory systems or diseases. In some cases, the swelling can indicate a serious medical problem or health issue, such as heart, kidney, or liver dysfunction. The swelling can also result from inflammation of tissue due to an injury or inflammatory disease such as arthritis.
Edema of the lower extremities can result from the following conditions:
- Medical diagnostic tests, treatments, procedures, and therapies
- Injuries or burns
- Allergies and reactions to the environment (sunburn, insect bites)
- Sitting (during lengthy flights or car trips) or standing for prolonged periods of time
- Nutrition imbalances and lack of proper nourishment
- Kidney, liver, or heart failure
- Hormone imbalances (estrogen, birth control pills, testosterone)
- Menstruation and pregnancy
- Surgery in the foot, ankle, or leg
- Excessive bodily fluid
- Vein and circulation problems
To treat edema, the swollen lower extremity can be raised while lying down to place the affected area higher than the heart. Edema can be prevented by walking to improve circulation to the legs and feet; be sure to stand up and walk around during prolonged periods of sitting, even during traveling. Avoid constricting clothing on the legs that can cut off circulation. Exercise is a good way to keep blood and bodily fluids flowing properly, and diets high in sodium should be avoided.
Since edema can indicate a more serious underlying medical condition, it is best to consult a doctor for prolonged or recurring cases of swelling in the lower extremities, as well as edema accompanied by other symptoms.