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Swelling in Legs in Elderly – Causes & Preventive Measures


It is not uncommon for older people to experience some puffiness in their feet, ankles, or legs. It is also quite common among people who are overweight or obese and also observed in pregnant women. Swollen legs can restrict the range of motion of ankles and thus result in loss of easy mobility and independence. It must also be noted that the causes for feet swelling amongst the elderly can be wide-ranging. Swollen legs in the elderly can also be an indication of an underlying condition.

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 can be of various types depending on its root cause. However, the most common one is the peripheral edema that occurs in the extremities. This can result in swollen legs, ankles, feet, and even swelling of the hands and arms. On the other hand, generalized edema refers to fluid retention which is one of the most common reasons for swollen feet. This can affect the entire body rather than particular organs or body areas. Other types of edema like pulmonary edema and corneal edema are classified based on the specific organ or system that it affects. For example, corneal edema refers to the fluid retention in the cornea that affects vision and pulmonary edema refers to the accumulation of fluid in the lungs. This can be a serious condition. So, if an individual with edema starts to experience trouble breathing, it is important to consult a professional healthcare provider 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.

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.

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