Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"What would cause legs to suddenly swell?"
My dad's legs have suddenly gotten swollen. What is happening to him? I've heard of that happening to older people before, but I didn't realize it was so incapacitating. (He can hardly walk.) He's reluctant to go to the doctor, but is there a straightforward diagnosis you can offer him?
Leg swelling is an important symptom which should be evaluated by a physician, as there are many potentially dangerous diagnoses that it could indicate. Additionally, leg swelling severe enough to cause difficulty walking could lead to falls, skin breakdown, and infection. There are some simple causes, such as certain medications commonly used for blood pressure control and age-related degeneration of the veins that drain the legs. In these cases, medication changes and compression stockings usually lead to complete improvement. More serious obstruction of drainage can occur when clots form in the veins. Leg swelling can also occur when fluid builds up in the body due to dysfunction in the heart, liver, or kidneys. These conditions require urgent diagnosis and treatment to prevent life-threatening progression. You should urge your father to schedule an appointment to discuss this symptom with his doctor. Based on his symptoms, medical history, and physical exam findings the physician will be able to determine which tests or treatments to pursue first. It may even be appropriate for him to go to the emergency department if the symptoms worsen before he can get an appointment or he develops alarming symptoms such as difficulty breathing, cough, chest pain, yellow skin, back pain, dark urine, or increasing abdominal girth.
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