Do I need to see a doctor?
If you don't know why you have swollen legs, or you know the reason but it isn't settling then see your doctor. There are so very many causes for swollen legs that it is important to make sure it isn't due to something which needs treatment.
If your legs swell up a little in the hot weather but go down again overnight, you don't need to see a doctor. Or if both ankles are a little puffy after a long flight but there is no pain or redness of the calf, and the puffiness settles quickly, then you do not need to see a doctor. Minor swellings from bites or trivial injuries don't usually need medical attention. In most other situations, it is wise to consult a health professional. If you have swollen legs and are pregnant, make sure you keep your regular appointment with your midwife. Your midwife will regularly check your blood pressure, and check your wee (urine) for protein to make sure your swollen ankles are not a sign of anything serious.
When should I see a doctor urgently?
In some situations, the cause of swollen legs can be serious, and you should see a doctor as an emergency. Obviously if you have had a serious injury and think you have a broken leg, you would attend an accident and emergency (A&E) department.
You should see your GP urgently if you:
- Think you might have a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This might be the case if one calf is warm, swollen and tender. You might have swelling in the foot of that leg. A DVT is more likely if you are not very active - due to being in a wheelchair, for example, or after an operation or illness. It is also more likely if you have recently been on a long flight.
- Feel out of breath.
- Have a high temperature (fever).
- Feel generally unwell in yourself.
- Are in severe pain.
- Notice your skin has turned a yellow colour.
Further reading and references
Management of chronic heart failure; Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network - SIGN (2016)
Trayes KP, Studdiford JS, Pickle S, et al; Edema: diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician. 2013 Jul 1588(2):102-10.
Wiig H, Swartz MA; Interstitial fluid and lymph formation and transport: physiological regulation and roles in inflammation and cancer. Physiol Rev. 2012 Jul92(3):1005-60. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00037.2011.
Deep vein thrombosis; NICE CKS, April 2013 (UK access only)
Cellulitis - acute; NICE CKS, July 2015 (UK access only)
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