Lower extremity edema involves swelling of the feet and legs, which typically occurs due to an abnormal accumulation of fluid. This fluid buildup can be caused by a wide variety of factors, ranging from something relatively simple, such as standing too long, to something more serious, such as kidney disease. Treatment is geared toward the underlying cause of the swelling and may include medications, surgery, and lifestyle changes.
When trapped fluids are the cause, this condition is referred to as peripheral edema. Some medical conditions that may cause fluids to become trapped in the lower extremities include heart failure or reduced kidney function. Standing for prolonged periods of time may also lead to this condition, as can some prescription medications.
Some immune system disorders are prone to causing lower extremity edema. This swelling is not related to an accumulation of fluid, but instead is a result of inflammatory disease. Some potential causes of this type of edema include gout, broken bones, and certain types of arthritis. A sprained ankle or infection in the leg may also lead to swelling.
Some less common causes are neither the result of abnormal fluid accumulation nor tissue inflammation, both of which are classified as forms of pitting edema. This means that if a finger is pressed into the swollen area, the imprint remains for several seconds once the pressure is released. Conditions that cause non-pitting edema are not as common, but they can be potentially serious medical conditions.
Scleroderma is an example of a medical condition that causes non-pitting lower extremity edema. It is a connective tissue disorder that can cause hair loss, a hardening of the skin, and joint pain. In addition to swelling, the feet and legs often feel numb. Unfortunately, scleroderma is a progressive disease that eventually causes death in many patients.
Eosinophilic fasciitis also leads to non-pitting edema in the feet and legs. In this condition, the connective tissue that lies underneath the skin becomes abnormally thick, often leading to rapid swelling in the extremities. The exact cause of this condition is unknown, and symptoms may include bone pain, muscle weakness, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Steroid and pain medications are sometimes used to attempt to control the symptoms, but there is no cure for this condition. Eosinophilic fasciitis typically goes away within five years of its appearance, although it may continue past this time or come back after it has disappeared.