Edema and Vein Health—Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Fluid Retention

What do your varicose veins and swollen ankles have in common? Both have to do with damaged veins, often caused by increased pressure within the damaged veins.

Sometimes swelling is just that—you’ve eaten too much chips and salsa, or splurged on something fried. Other swelling is caused from too much standing (at a concert or theme park, or even a long day at work), or sitting (on a plane or long car ride). Even hot, humid weather can cause some swelling of the legs and feet.

This is edema, which can be benign or serious.

Sometimes, blood plasma leaks out of damaged veins, seeping into the peripheral tissue. This fluid buildup that causes the swelling in the legs, feet, or hands is called peripheral edema. It’s also common among pregnant or menstruating women because of hormone changes. Generally, minor swelling will occur in the legs, ankles, and feet and will disappear overnight, absorbed by the body during sleep. Swelling that disappears within a day or two shouldn’t be a cause for alarm.

Generally, the culprit is venous insufficiency or vein damage, when the valves in the veins, especially in the lower extremities, are so weak that blood can’t pump back up toward the heart, so instead, the blood pools in the damaged veins of the legs and feet, causing those unsightly varicose veins. But note, too, that varicose veins themselves can cause additional swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet.

What may surprise many people is that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen and ibuprofen can actually worsen edema, as can drugs prescribed for diabetes, hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, and certain antidepressants and even blood pressure medications (calcium-channel blockers).

However, in serious cases, the source of edema is kidney or liver disease, or even heart disease, which can cause fluid to enter the lungs and abdomen, if not elsewhere.

If swelling persists after a day or two or even worsens, consult a doctor quickly, especially if the swelling is accompanied by a shortness of breath, as severe fluid buildup can be caused by heart failure or life-threatening kidney, liver, or thyroid disease. Oftentimes in such cases, the swelling in the extremities occurs because the heart is too week to pump blood efficiently.

How to prevent edema? If you already have vein disease, that can’t be cured. Varicose veins can (and should) be treated with sclerotherapy, to prevent additional problems, but the underlying cause won’t go away. But varicose veins can be a symptom of something more serious, so it’s good to get regular checkups. As for the basic edema, if you have a clean bill of health and don’t suffer from heart failure, liver or kidney disease, then try cutting down on the sodium intake. Some doctors may prescribe a diuretic for more significant edema-related swelling, but be wary of over-the-counter homeopathic remedies, as those haven’t been fully vetted. If prescription medication for high blood pressure or an unrelated condition is the cause, consult with your doctor about trying a new prescription medication instead. Beyond that, try to avoid sitting or standing for long stretches at a time, and maintain good all-around physical health and mobility.

To have your varicose veins checked and treated with sclerotherapy, visit us at or contact us at 760-944-9263.