Edema is painful swelling in the body caused by the buildup of excess fluid. It is a common condition in the foot and ankle, often due to a weak venous system, a traumatic injury, or recent surgery. The most common symptoms of edema are:

  • swelling in the legs or feet.
  • shiny skin.
  • skin that retains a dimple (pits) after being pressed for several seconds.
  • blisters or fluid leakage from the legs/feet.
  • open wounds on legs/feet.


Mild edema may be caused by:

  • sitting or standing in one position for long periods of time.
  • eating too salty food.
  • premenstrual symptoms.
  • pregnancy.
  • a side effect of medications* including:
    • High blood pressure drugs
    • NSAIDs
    • Steroids
    • Estrogen
    • Diabetes medications

Moderate to severe edema may be attributed to the following:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Kidney disease
  • Kidney damage
  • Weakness or damage to the veins in your legs
  • Inadequate lymphatic system
  • Severe, long-term protein deficiency
  • Infection
  • Trauma

*If you believe your medication is causing pain and swelling in your legs or feet, please speak with your doctor before you discontinue use.

When to see a Doctor

While edema isn’t usually a cause for concern, it can be a sign of something serious. You can follow these guidelines to help you determine if you should contact your doctor about the condition.

You should make an appointment with your doctor if you are experiencing edema and have:

  • heart or kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • swollen areas that are red and warm to the touch
  • fever
  • sudden or severe swelling while pregnant
  • no success with the home remedies above
  • open sores on your legs or feet
  • recent sprains or injury

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor needs to understand the cause of your edema to treat it properly. After taking an extensive history of the illness, a physical examination may be adequate to determine the cause. Sometimes other studies are required for analysis. Initial studies are non-invasive and may include mapping of the venous system. X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, blood tests, or urine analysis may also be used to gather information and obtain an accurate diagnosis.

Treatments for edema depends entirely on the cause and current symptoms. 

Mild Edema

A few forms of mild edema will resolve on their own. If the edema persists or becomes painful, please seek medical attention. 

Movement | Moving or walking engages your muscles,  sending excess fluid back to your heart. Your doctor will provide specific exercises to best help reduce swelling in each area.

Elevation | Avoid hanging your legs and feet down when possible. Keep the swollen body part above the level of your heart.

Massage | Massaging the affected area toward your heart using firm, non-painful pressure can be helpful. It may move the excess fluid away from that area.

Compression | Your doctor will likely recommend the use of compression socks, stockings, or sleeves. These items are best used when you first get out of bed and the swelling is down. In more severe cases, medical wraps may be required to help reduce the swelling. Due to health risk of fluid overload in patients with heart failure, please make an appointment to discuss the level of compression that is right for you.

Reduction of Salt in Diet | Your doctor may suggest that you limit your sodium intake. Salt can increase fluid retention, worsening your symptoms.

Severe Edema

Cases of moderate to severe edema may be treated with medications (diuretics) to help your body release excess fluid. Your doctor will determine if this medication is right for you based on your medical history.

Long term management of edema requires treatment of the underlying condition. An extensive history of the illness will help identify potential causes. 

If you have pain associated with swelling or notice open sores on your legs or feet, please make an appointment today.

If you have a foot injury or a condition that’s getting worse, don’t live with the pain.

Edema Care at Keir Foot & Ankle Specialists

If you meet any criteria above or have questions about  swelling in your legs and feet, please request an appointment with us below. Patients with edema on the South side of Chicago and the South suburbs trust us for expert care.

Request an appointment

Select one