What is the treatment for swollen legs?
Treatment will be different depending on the cause. If the cause is fluid in the legs (oedema), this can often be relieved in the short term by taking tablets called 'water tablets' (diuretics). Diuretics increase the amount of fluid that the kidney filters off to be passed in your wee (urine). So when you take diuretics you eventually pee away some of the fluid which was collecting round your legs.
However, diuretics are not used for many causes of swollen legs. A few examples of some treatments of some common causes are as follows.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is treated with medicines to thin the blood and break up the blood clot.
- Heart failure is usually treated with a number of medications to improve your heart function, including diuretic medicines.
- Skin infections (cellulitis) or bone infections (osteomyelitis) are treated with antibiotics
- Where the cause is a medicine, that medicine can usually be changed, or stopped, or the dose reduced.
Are there any complications?
Again this totally depends on the cause. The most common complication in swollen tissue is infection. Where the skin is stretched, it is more prone to be dry. If it is dry, it is more prone to breaks in the skin allowing germs from the outside of the skin underneath. This can result in cellulitis of the legs. If this is the case a large area of the skin of the legs becomes hot and red. It may cause a high temperature (fever).
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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