August 24


What Causes Edema in the Lower Legs?

By Dr. Jose Almeida

August 24, 2015

edema, vein disease


What causes Edema?

Edema is the term used to describe a buildup of fluid in the tissues. It can occur anywhere on the body, but it most often occurs in the lower legs. There are different conditions that can cause edema of the lower legs, and they range from benign to life threatening. Here are some of the most common causes.

Prolonged Sitting or Standings

Sitting or standing for extended periods can cause fluid retention in the lower legs. When extended sitting is the culprit, edema is caused by blood and other fluids pooling in the tissues. Because the legs are at a much lower elevation than the heart, and because of a sustained lack of motion, these fluids are unable to return into the rest of the body. When extended standing is the culprit, the edema is caused by excessive pressure on the veins and tissues of the legs, allowing fluids to collect and cause swelling. To prevent this, it is important to get up and move around every 20 to 30 minutes.

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Deep Vein Thrombosis (Blood Clot)

Another common cause of lower leg edema is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), more simply known as a blood clot. These can occur as a direct result of prolonged sitting, such as on long flights or road trips. The lower elevation of the legs, combined with prolonged inactivity, allows blood to stagnate in the leg veins and become clotted. As a result, fluids accumulate in the legs because they become trapped by the blood clot. A DVT is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention. If you suspect that you could have a DVT, seek emergency medical care immediately.

Excessive Alcohol Intake

Edema is frequently seen in people who drink excessively. As blood levels of alcohol rise, the body stops producing vasopressin, an antidiuretic hormone that controls how often you urinate. Because of this, the kidneys begin expelling diluted urine that does not possess sodium. However, as your blood alcohol returns to normal, your body stops expelling water and starts accumulating it again. Because the urine lost under alcohol’s influence did not contain sodium, your levels are much higher relative to your body’s water content. This results in water retention in the form of edema.

To request a consultation click here or call 305-854-1555.


Pregnancy has many vexing effects on the body, not the least of which is water retention and swelling. Blood volume increases under the influence of pregnancy hormones, and downward pressure on the legs increases. This commonly results in edema of the lower legs. However, certain pregnancy complications, like preeclampsia and DVT, can also cause edema. If you frequently suffer from edema during pregnancy, especially if you experience any symptoms of DVT or preeclampsia, talk with your doctor as soon as possible.


People with diabetes often experience peripheral edema, or fluid retention in the feet, ankles, and lower legs, and it may occur on one or both sides. Edema in the lower legs of diabetics is typically caused by damage to capillaries caused by poorly controlled blood glucose. When the capillaries become damaged, fluid seeps into the nearby tissues, causing the swelling that is characteristic of edema.

At Miami Vein Center, we specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of many different vein conditions. Doctor Jose Almeida is a board certified vascular surgeon who specializes in endovascular venous surgery. During your consultation, we’ll work with you to create a treatment plan that is right for you and your needs. Contact Miami Vein Center today to schedule your consultation.

To request a consultation click here or call 305-854-1555.


Dr. Jose Almeida

About the author

Dr. Jose Almeida, MD, FACS, RPVI, RVT is a veteran academic vascular surgeon who practices Endovascular Venous Surgery in Miami, FL. He is also a Diplomate of the American Board of Surgery in both Vascular Surgery and General Surgery.

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