Norman Chideckel MD Vein Center

What causes a swollen leg?

Causes of Swollen Leg

Swollen LegThe potential causes of the swollen leg are many. Is the swelling occurring in both legs or is only one leg affected. Swelling of both legs is more likely due to a “central” cause. This may include, medications, as some medications may cause fluid retention in the area of theankles, most notably the antihypertensive medication- Norvasc. Underlying medical issues of the heart, liver, or kidneys, or thyroid may also cause fluid retention. Inflammatory reactions as result of lower back issues, such as spinal stenosis or arthritis, may cause swelling which again will occur most frequently at the area of the ankles, as it is the most dependent area of the body.

Only One Leg

When only one leg is affected, then local causes must be evaluated. Venous thrombosis (blood clot) causes swelling of the lower extremity as the clot blocks the return of blood flow back towards the heart. Venous insufficiency, varicose veins can also cause swelling of a leg as a result of the blood flow refluxing back down the leg. These issues are usually associated with heaviness, throbbing, and a tired and achy leg.

“Baker’s” cystBaker's Cyst

A “Baker’s” cyst commonly known as a pop liteal cyst which causes compression in the area behind the knee may present as a swollen leg. This issue is more common in people with underlying knee issues, such as arthritis or cartilage damage. When the cyst ruptures there may be acute swelling that affects the back portion of the calf. When the cyst enlarges it may cause pressure on the vein known as the popliteal vein in the back of the knee. This has also been known as “pseudo-“ thrombophlebitis. Arthritis of the hip or knee to again to this inflammatory reaction may also present with swelling.


Lymphedema, where the lymph channels of the lower extremity are not working Lymphedemaeffectively in returning lymph fluid back towards the heart, may also cause swelling. This could be primary lymphedema, without any underlying medical condition, or secondary lymphedema, occurring as a result of a compressive force on the lower extremity. This topic will be discussed in the future blog. The most informative test to start the evaluation process is a venous duplex ultrasound, also known as sonogram with Doppler, which will define if there is an underlying vein problem or thrombosis as the source of the swelling, and often times will diagnose the presence of this Baker’s cyst. These are just a few possible causes of swelling of the lower extremities. Empirically use of a support or compression stocking would be beneficial just to deal with the issue of the swelling. A thorough investigation by your medical doctor is crucial in sorting through this issue.

If you have any questions about a swollen leg due to Lymphedema or a Baker’s cyst, please call NYC’s top varicose vein doctor Dr. Norman Chideckel at 212-993-6133 today.


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