My legs are red and swollen. Is that serious?

Christopher Bonati, MD, practices family medicine at Banner Health Center in Verrado. His office can be reached at (623) 463-5000.

Question: I am on my feet all day at work but I have recently noticed that around 5 p.m., my legs are red and swollen. Is this serious? What should I do?

Answer: Red, swollen legs may be a sign of a circulation problem; therefore, it is important to make an appointment with your primary care physician.

Most likely what you are experiencing is called edema. Edema is the actual swelling of the ankles and the legs, typically caused by venous hypertension or venous insufficiency.

Hypertension and venous insufficiency is usually caused by one of the following factors:

  • An obstruction or blockage in the veins, which can come from a tumor, or a deep vein thrombus .
  • A problem with the valves in the veins. Valvular impairment allows pooling of blood in the lower legs due to the vein’s inability to push the blood back up through the legs.
  • A muscle pump failure. Muscle pump failure usually is due to inactivity, neuromuscular disease, aging, arthritis, or sedentary lifestyle, such as being on your feet for long periods of time.

Your life history can determine how your circulation system moves blood through your veins in your legs. Some factors that may cause venous insufficiency include multiple pregnancies, obesity, high blood pressure, congestive heart disease, diabetes, liver or kidney disease.

Or, for some people, it is their working conditions. Some, like you, stand or are on their feet all day at work. Others who remain in the same sitting position all day may find themselves with the same kind of swelling.

But there’s good news. There are several simple ways to relieve swollen legs. They include exercise, leg elevation or even support stockings.

The easiest way to get circulation going is to move your legs. Movement keeps the circulation pumping and the blood less likely to stagnate. If you are on your feet all day, are you standing still or walking around?

  • Walking around, going up and down steps, or just strolling to a different part of the office and back will help move the blood through your legs. If you must stand in one place, do some ankle pumps where you flex your ankle down toward the ground and then up toward your knee. Just that slight movement will help with circulation.
  • Elevating your legs 6 to 12 inches higher than your heart whenever possible will also decrease swelling. If you have the chance to sit down during the day, use a foot stool or chair to make your legs at least even with your body. If this is not possible, then elevate your legs as soon as you get home.
  • Support stockings are also good for swollen legs, but only on a physician’s recommendation. The support of the support stocking comes from the tight weave—it helps to support your veins and muscles in the lower legs, thus assisting with your lower leg circulation. You should put the stockings on first thing in the morning, before your legs start to swell.
  • Then, at night, when you take the stockings off, moisturize your legs with a lotion. The lotion will keep your legs hydrated and the skin healthy. If the skin is healthy and moist, then cracks and sores are less likely to happen.

Your primary care physician will be able to tell you if any of these treatments will work best for you.

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