Cardiovascular Group and Northside Hospital are pleased to announce the signing of a Practice Services Agreement, signifying a major leap forward in cardiovascular patient care and clinical leadership in the Atlanta region.
Circulation problems that lead to inflammation in the legs can occur in any part of your body, such as the feet, ankles, calves, and thighs. This can result from fluid retention or from inflammation in injured or diseased tissues or joints. Certain causes of leg swelling are not any reason to be concerned, yet sometimes it can indicate a more serious condition such as heart disease or a blood clot.
One of the main causes of swollen legs is fluid buildup, which is when the tissues or blood vessels in your legs hold more fluid than they should. This is known as peripheral edema, and is due to either problems with the venous circulation system, the lymphatic system, or the kidneys. There are many conditions related to fluid buildup, such as acute kidney failure, cardiomyopathy, chemotherapy, kidney disease, cirrhosis, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), heart failure, obesity, pregnancy, varicose veins, venous insufficiency, and pulmonary embolism.
Another main cause of leg swelling is inflammation in leg joints or tissues. This can be due to injury, disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or another inflammatory disorder. Other conditions that can cause leg swelling due to inflammation include an achilles tendon rupture, ACL injury, baker’s cyst, cellulitis, knee bursitis, osteoarthritis, and a broken leg, foot, or ankle.
Swollen legs can also sometimes be a side effect of certain prescription medications.
Medications that are most likely to lead to poor circulation which can cause swelling include calcium channel blockers, non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, some diabetes medicines such as metformin, hormone medications, and certain antidepressants. These medications affect each user differently, so not everyone will experience the same side effects from them.
To diagnose if you are experiencing swollen legs, your doctor will conduct a physical exam followed by additional tests to determine the cause. During the physical exam, your doctor will look for any swollen areas, especially on parts of your body where the skin looks shiny or stretched.
To find out the severity of your swelling, your doctor will conduct a test called edema grading. This test works by having your doctor gently press their finger on the swollen leg and hold it there for 5 to 15 seconds. When they release pressure, there will be an indent in your skin which indicates that there is fluid buildup in your tissues. The severity of your swelling is based on how long it takes for the indent to return to normal.
Treatment for swollen legs varies based on the cause of the swelling, as treatment is typically meant for the underlying condition that led to the inflammation. If the cause is lung disease, your doctor will tell you to quit smoking, and if the cause is heart disease, your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes. The swelling might be due to side effects of medication, and if this is the case, your doctor may prescribe a lower dosage or recommend that you stop taking it entirely.
There are also some home remedies that can help reduce swelling, such as cutting back on salty foods, wearing compression stockings, and getting regular exercise. Another simple remedy is putting a pillow underneath your legs when you are laying down, which can help reduce fluid buildup that may be causing swelling.
Besides the obvious swelling of the legs, there are other symptoms that can be associated with this inflammation. This includes leg pain or muscle cramps, numbness, redness, itchiness, or a rash. Certain symptoms may be a sign of a possibly life-threatening underlying cause, such as a clot forming in your lungs or a serious heart condition. These symptoms include chest pain, fatigue, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath during both physical activity and rest, fainting or dizziness, and coughing up blood.
If you experience any of these more severe symptoms, contact your doctor right away. Even if the cause of your leg swelling is not something that requires immediate attention, you should still receive medical care. Leg swelling from severe underlying conditions and leg swelling as a side effect of medication present the same way, so your doctor will not be able to determine the cause of the leg swelling until you are at the appointment and they can conduct tests.
When swelling occurs, it may cause other issues as well. This can include difficulty walking, coughing or trouble breathing, tightness in the swollen area, and pain or soreness in the legs. These complications add to the difficulty of experiencing swollen legs, so it is important to try at home remedies and receive treatment from your doctor as soon as possible.
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Invasive therapies may also be used to treat an abnormal heart rhythm, such as electrical cardioversion which sends electrical impulses through your chest wall and allows normal heart rhythm to restart, or catheter ablation which disconnects the pathway of the abnormal rhythm. If your doctor determines that electrical devices are the best course of action, you may be given a permanent pacemaker, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), or biventricular (B-V) pacemakers and defibrillators.
CVG offers a variety of services that can check for heart conditions that may be causing your legs to swell. At CVG, we perform stress tests that will observe blood flow and test for Atrial Fibrillation. There are three types of stress tests that we perform:
A treadmill test is a test in which you will walk on a treadmill that gets faster and steeper every 3 minutes. This will stress your heart so that our nurse or doctor can determine your EKG and blood pressure.
An echo test is performed before and after your treadmill test to determine how well your heart pumps blood.
A nuclear stress test is a treadmill test that is prefaced by an injection of medicine that shows the flow of blood to your heart.
We also offer cardiac catheterization, in which a catheter is inserted into the heart in order to take pictures and conduct tests. This procedure allows doctors to gain more information about your condition and suggest treatment options.
If these tests determine a problem, we offer treatment solutions to fix several conditions. Learn more about our services here, or schedule an appointment to talk to our doctors.