Edema or Swelling of Legs

Legs | General Practice | Edema or Swelling of Legs (Symptom)


Edema is observable swelling from fluid accumulation in body tissues. Edema most commonly occurs in the feet and legs, where it is referred to as peripheral edema.


The swelling is the result of the accumulation of excess fluid under the skin in the spaces within the tissues. All tissues of the body are made up of cells and connective tissues that hold the cells together. This connective tissue around the cells and blood vessels is known as the interstitium.

Most of the body's fluids that are found outside of the cells are normally stored in two spaces; the blood vessels (as the liquid or serum portion of your blood) and the interstitial spaces (not within the cells). In various diseases, excess fluid can accumulate in either one or both of these compartments.

Edema may occur during pregnancy. It may also be caused by heart disease (congestive heart failure), kidney disease, cirrhosis (due to chronic liver disease, such as from hepatitis or alcoholism), lymph node swelling, and trauma such as burns. Excess sodium intake can also increase the amount of fluid retained by the kidneys, increasing the pressure within the capillaries and promoting fluid leakage.

Symptoms of edema include swelling in the hands, feet and legs, although it can occur anywhere in the body. The skin may appear stretched, shiny, or dimpled, especially after being pressed. The extent and severity of edema depend upon the underlying cause and the individual’s underlying medical condition.