Health > Swelling in Legs in Elderly – Causes & Preventive Measures
11th Mar 2021

Swelling in Legs in Elderly – Causes & Preventive Measures

Swelling in legs in elderly individuals is a common issue. Many older people often notice their feet, ankles, or legs becoming puffy. This kind of swelling is also seen in people who are overweight or obese, and it’s common in pregnant women too. When legs swell, it can make moving the ankles harder, which can lead to problems with walking and moving around freely.

It’s important to remember that there are many different reasons why older people might have swollen legs. Sometimes, this swelling can even be a sign of another health problem that needs attention..

Causes of Swollen Legs in Elderly

Feet swelling in the elderly can be because of two major reasons:

•    Fluid build-up (edema)

Fluid build-up, known as edema, happens when the tissues or blood vessels in the legs hold excessive fluid. It is one of the most common reasons for feet swelling in the elderly. This can take place when an individual has either been on their feet or sitting for too long. This can be common in people who are overweight or lead a sedentary lifestyle. However, it may also be because of some serious medical conditions. Some of the causes of fluid build-up or elderly edema include – congestive heart failure, vein issues like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and thrombophlebitis or varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency, kidney problems, or acute kidney failure.

•    Inflammation

Inflammation takes place when the tissues in the legs get irritated and swollen. This is a natural response in case of an injury like a tendon or ligament tear or bone injury. It is a common reason for foot swelling that might not be serious in all cases. However, it may also be a sign of a severe inflammatory illness, like arthritis. Some of the major causes of inflammation are gout, osteoarthritis, knee bursitis, rheumatoid arthritis, injuries like strains, sprains, broken bones, achilles tendon rupture, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, infection or wound, and cellulitis.

Types of Edema

Edema has different types, but the most common one is peripheral edema, which causes swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, and sometimes the hands and arms. Another type is generalized edema, which makes the whole body swell, especially the feet. There are also special types like pulmonary edema and corneal edema. Pulmonary edema means fluid builds up in the lungs, which can be serious. Corneal edema happens in the eye’s cornea and affects vision. If someone with edema has trouble breathing, they should see a doctor right away.

Symptoms of Edema

Some of the most common symptoms of edema are:

•    Swelling or puffiness
•    Skin appearing stretched, shiny or discoloured
•    Pain in different body parts
•    Stiff joints
•    Weight fluctuations
•    Skin that gets a dimple after being pressed for a few seconds (known as pitting edema)

Living with Edema

Someone who is diagnosed with edema should do the following things in order to keep the swelling down:

•    Elevate the legs above the heart level for half an hour while sitting or lying down. Repeat this several times a day. This is one of the simplest options for managing leg swelling in old age.

•    Wear support or compression stockings that put pressure on the legs to keep fluid from accumulating.

•    Do not sit or stand for long periods of time. This can be a cause for feet and ankle swelling.

•    Limit your salt intake.

•    Exercise every day.

•    Avoid heat as it may cause or increase ankle and leg swelling.

Preventive Measures

In order to prevent edema, there are also quite a few measures that one can follow: –

Consume a Healthy Diet: Increase the intake of foods that naturally possess diuretic properties. This will help in balancing fluid build-up. One should have green coriander, parsley, asparagus, grapes, beetroot, leafy greens, green beans, pumpkin, pineapple, leeks, onion, and garlic. Apart from their diuretic effects, these are also a great source of minerals, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.

Limit Salt Intake: One can get sodium-free condiments and seasonings to season their meal rather than reaching out for the saltshaker.

Stay Active and Lose Weight: It is important to walk around and stretch a little to avoid swelling. Also, while travelling, older people should get up frequently to stretch and move. Similarly, while working in the office, at a Laptop, one should take frequent breaks to stretch one’s legs. Losing weight too can prevent swelling in feet in old age.

Massage:  Targeted application of pressure on legs through massage can help in better circulation of excessive fluid and thus prevent accumulation. However, since elderly people have fragile and sensitive skin, it is better to get professional physiotherapy treatment at home.


Ensuring proper treatment of edema is important. If left untreated, the condition may worsen and result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty in walking and maintaining balance and other complications. And to do that, it is extremely important to identify the underlying cause of edema. One must discuss treatment options with a professional healthcare provider and ensure that the patient brings in positive lifestyle changes that will help them lead a comfortable life.

For expert assistance and care in managing swelling in legs in elderly individuals, turn to Emoha Elder Care Services. At Emoha, we always keep #EldersFirst and deliver several home care services that help take care of their health and well-being, empowering them to live happily and comfortably.