My Legs are swollen, what’s up with that?

Swelling can be caused by several different things. For instance, when valves in the veins in your legs don’t close properly, pressure builds up in them. This can force fluid to leak out of the veins into the surrounding tissue. This valve malfunction is known as venous insufficiency, or venous reflux. We can treat this with minimally-invasive office procedures. If left untreated, it can lead to blood clots, leg ulcers, varicose veins, restless legs, skin irritations, thrombophlebitis, cramping, itching, heaviness, etc…
Another cause of swelling is called lymphedema. The lymphatic system is somewhat similar to your venous system in that there is flow of lymph fluid back to the center of your body. If that system is impaired, fluid and proteins can leak into the surrounding tissue, causing swelling and discomfort similar to venous swelling. Lymphedema can be primary-meaning the cause is unknown. It can also be secondary, which is caused by anything that changes the lymphatic return. Common causes include trauma from surgery performed close to lymph nodes or vessels, removal of lymph nodes due to cancer surgery, radiation, infections or other traumas.
Lymphedema should not be mistaken for venous swelling. However, untreated venous insufficiency can progress into a combined venous and lymph disorder and massive swelling can occur-limiting walking, daily activities and cause permanent skin changes. The National Lymphedema Network is a great resource for information about lymphedema. Their website is http://www.lymphnet.org.
posted by Kelly Lorenzen
Question answered by Nick Morrison, MD, FACPh

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