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Only My Left Leg is Swelling - Should I Be Concerned?

Only My Left Leg is Swelling – Should I Be Concerned?

May 6, 2024 | Blog, Vascular Issues

Unilateral leg swelling occurs when one leg becomes visibly bigger than the other because of fluid buildup. Various factors such as injuries, infections, and vein issues can cause swelling in your leg.

Due to the fact that leg swelling could be a result of various underlying issues, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. If neglected, such issues could lead to serious complications. As such learning the cause of your swelling is important because it helps to determine the right treatment option. For example, a swelling caused by an injury may require ice, however, one caused by a blood clot could require immediate medical attention.

With over three decades of experience, our center for advanced cardio and vascular interventions prides itself in being an amputation prevention center. Led by board-certified consultants our team is committed to help you live a healthier life by offering a wide range of diagnostic procedures right in our office. Schedule a life-changing appointment today to safeguard your limbs for a healthier tomorrow.

In this blog, we will cover multiple reasons that could cause your leg to swell, when to see a doctor, and various treatment options available for this condition.

Why Do Legs Swell?

Why Do Legs Swell?

Edema is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in your tissues which results in swelling. Though this can happen in various parts of your body, it is commonly observed in the legs and ankles. Leg edema may occur for various reasons including circulatory issues, inflammation, or injury.

Common characteristics of leg swelling include visible puffiness often associated with a feeling of heaviness in the leg. Additionally, you may observe pitting when pressure is applied to the leg which temporarily leaves an imprint. In some instances, changes in skin color or texture around the leg may also be present.

Unilateral vs. Bilateral Swelling

Unilateral swelling affects one leg, often pointing to localized issues such as infections or deep vein thrombosis, while bilateral swelling impacts both legs and is associated with systemic conditions like heart failure. Another major difference between the two is the underlying causes: unilateral swelling might be caused by lymphatic obstructions or infections, whereas bilateral swelling is often caused by widespread medical conditions that lead to excess fluid buildup.

Consequently, the severity and treatment of both cases also differ. Unilateral swelling requires targeted treatment such as antibiotics if it was caused by an infection. Bilateral swelling takes on a broader approach by addressing systemic conditions or managing chronic diseases.

Why Is Only My Left Leg Swelling?

Experiencing swelling in one leg can be concerning and raise questions about its cause and seriousness. It may be a pointer to underlying issues and knowing the cause could help in finding the right treatment. Anyone can experience leg swelling but it is especially common in women and elderly people.

The main causes of severe swelling in one leg include deep vein thrombosis where clots form in deep veins and obstruct blood flow. Other causes can be an injury that causes trauma to the leg. Additionally, conditions affecting the lymphatic system can cause unilateral swelling.

Blood Flow and Fluid Accumulation in the Legs

Blood flow and fluid accumulation are linked to vascular conditions like Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) and Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) which directly impact the circulation of blood in your legs. In PAD your narrowed arteries obstruct blood flow to the legs thereby increasing fluid retention. Conversely, CVI is a condition that impedes blood flow from your legs to your heart, causing fluid buildup.

Why Is Only One Leg Swelling – Symptoms Indicating Serious Concerns

Why Is Only One Leg Swelling - Symptoms Indicating Serious Concerns?

When only one leg is swelling it could be an indicator of a bigger issue. Symptoms associated with leg swelling often point towards potentially serious concerns that require prompt medical attention.

One of such symptoms is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Signs that accompany DVT are throbbing pain, warm skin, red/darkened skin, and swollen veins on the affected leg. In addition to the symptoms that follow deep vein thrombosis, leg swelling could also be a sign of pulmonary embolism (PE). This is a life-threatening condition where blood clots travel to your lungs and cause severe respiratory issues. Common symptoms of PE include difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, and chest pain.

On the other hand, leg swelling can also be caused by an infection. An infection could be the cause of your leg’s swelling if you notice a fever, redness, or the presence of pus. Prompt treatment is required to prevent the infection from spreading and causing further complications. If you notice skin changes on your leg it could also be a result of lymphatic dysfunction. This a condition where your lymphatic system fails to remove wastes and toxins from your body effectively. This could lead to complications such as lymphedema if not managed properly.

Is Leg Swelling a Symptom of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)?

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) can cause leg swelling as it is a serious condition where blood clots in your veins, typically in your legs. When these blood clots form in your veins and obstruct blood flow, fluid builds in your legs leading to swelling. Depending on the severity, common treatments for blood clots are compression therapy, thrombolytic surgery, and anticoagulant medications.

Is Leg Swelling a Symptom of Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)?

Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a condition where your arteries become narrowed or blocked due to plaque buildup. This reduces blood flow in your limbs and causes symptoms such as painful swelling and weakness. Common treatments for PAD include lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, exercising regularly, and managing diabetes.

To diagnose PAD and assess its severity, healthcare providers use a test called peripheral angiogram. This test identifies areas where you have narrowed or blocked arteries with the help of X-rays and dye. As a method of treating PAD, an angioplasty is often recommended. It uses a balloon catheter with a flexible tube to open up the narrowed arteries. Over the years new treatments for PAD like gene therapy and stem cell therapy have emerged promising a more effective intervention. CACVI has garnered talented PAD specialists who have dedicated their careers to understanding and managing vascular conditions.

Is Leg Swelling a Symptom of Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a condition where excess fluid builds up in tissues usually around your arms or legs. This is caused by damage or blockage in your lymphatic system. The poor drainage of lymph fluid results in swelling and discomfort. In treating lymphedema, your healthcare provider may suggest typical treatments such as compression therapy or exercises that promote lymphatic flow. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be considered.

Is Leg Swelling a Symptom of Venous Insufficiency?

Is Leg Swelling a Symptom of Venous Insufficiency?

Venous insufficiency is a disease that gives the veins in your legs a difficult time sending blood back to your heart. This could happen when your vein valves don’t work well, because of this blood pools in your legs and results in swelling. You may experience swelling and pain after sitting or standing for prolonged periods. Other symptoms you may experience are cramps, varicose veins, and skin changes. In addition to the symptoms already mentioned, the development of venous insufficiency leg ulcers, an open wound that develops due to poor blood circulation, indicates a severe case of leg swelling.

Common treatment options for venous insufficiency include wearing compression stockings, elevating your legs, and avoiding long periods of sitting or standing. More advanced solutions for blocked veins in legs are medical procedures called thrombolytic therapy and angioplasty and stent placement.

Depending on how severe your case is, you may be diagnosed with chronic venous insufficiency. Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), is a vein disease that is similar to what we have discussed above. The major difference is in the severity.

Is Leg Swelling a Symptom of Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are swollen or twisted veins that appear under the surface of your skin, usually in your legs. When your vein valves fail to function properly, it causes blood to pool in your legs, causing swelling. Various factors like aging, pregnancy, and obesity can cause the development of varicose veins.

While varicose veins are not life-threatening, they can be bothersome and sometimes painful to deal with. They can also impact the quality of your life due to their appearance and the discomfort they cause. Common treatment options for varicose veins are sclerotherapy, A more advanced varicose vein treatment is an endovenous venous ablation. Sclerotherapy involves injecting a solution into the veins to shrink them, while endovenous venous ablation is a more advanced procedure that uses heat or laser energy to seal off the affected veins.

When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention for Leg Swelling

Seek immediate attention if you experience trouble breathing, chest pains, and blood in your cough. These could be indicators of a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolism is a severe condition that occurs when a blood clot makes its way to your lungs.

Prompt treatment ensures your safety by preventing complications. Don’t hesitate to visit the nearest emergency room if you suspect your leg swelling may have a serious underlying cause.

Minor Causes of Leg Swelling

Minor Causes of Leg Swelling

Several everyday activities can cause leg swelling; long flights, car rides, and extended periods behind your work desk are examples of how staying in a position for too long can cause temporary swelling in your legs. Regular movement can help prevent this.

Ankle sprains and muscle strains can cause localized swelling. Your body’s natural response to injury is inflammation. By bringing fluid to the affected area your body promotes its healing. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation are effective treatments to reduce this type of swelling.

Serious Causes of Leg Swelling

Certain medical conditions such as an obstruction in your lymphatic system, infections, and DVT can cause more persistent leg puffiness. They may present as blood clots, cellulitis, and poor blood circulation often leading to high fluid retention in your legs.

Medical procedures such as an angioplasty, and lymphatic drainage therapy are interventions that aim to reduce swelling. Angioplasty widens narrowed/blocked arteries and lymphatic drainage promotes lymph flow. This alleviates swelling by improving circulation in your legs.

Diagnosis and Tests for Left leg Swelling

Diagnosis and Tests for Left leg Swelling?

Diagnosing leg swelling involves a thorough process that ranges from basic checks to specialized tests. By learning the various diagnostic procedures available you can pinpoint the cause of your swelling quickly and accurately.

Common diagnostic tests include a Doppler ultrasound and blood tests. A Doppler ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure that uses sound waves to detect abnormalities in the arteries and veins of your legs. It is often conducted by a sonographer, a professional trained in conducting ultrasound examinations.

During your examination, you will be asked to remove the clothing from the leg to be examined and the sonographer will apply a gel-like substance on your leg. The examiner will then send painless sound waves into your leg that interact with your red blood cells with a device called a transducer. The ultrasound machine transforms these sounds into images and graphs on a screen. If you are a smoker, you will be asked to refrain from smoking for several hours before you go in for your test. Because nicotine narrows blood vessels, consuming any before your test will alter your result. Aside from the Doppler test, blood tests are also used to assess blood flow and detect any clots that may be contributing to your swelling.

Treatment Options for Leg Swelling in One Leg

Treatment Options for Leg Swelling in One Leg

For minor swelling in one leg general treatments like the use of compression stockings and elevation are recommended to alleviate symptoms. In cases of serious conditions like DVT or an infection, medical treatments like antibiotics and anticoagulants are better suited to address the underlying causes and prevent complications.

These solutions are usually complemented by long-term management strategies that involve making lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly. Additionally, regular medical checkups and adherence to prescribed treatments can assist in managing chronic vascular diseases.

Regular medical checkups are important because they help health providers monitor the progression of chronic vascular diseases. This aids in ensuring timely intervention, and adjusting treatment plans as needed to optimize management or prevent complications. They also provide an opportunity for healthcare providers to address any emerging issues or concerns, promoting overall vascular health and well-being.

How to Prevent Leg Swelling?

How to Prevent Leg Swelling?

Preventing leg swelling boils down to adopting lifestyle habits that promote healthy circulation to reduce fluid retention in your legs. Regular physical activity such as walking or cycling helps promote healthy circulation in your legs.

Taking breaks from prolonged periods of sitting or standing can also help to prevent fluid pooling in your legs. If you work a desk job, take breaks to stretch or walk. Similarly, if you stand a lot, try to take short sitting breaks to reduce pressure on your legs.

Finally, you can also elevate your legs above heart level for fifteen to twenty minutes several times a day. When you raise your legs above heart level, gravity helps in draining excess fluid from the legs towards the heart. This simple position aids circulation and reduces the pooling of blood and fluid in your legs, thereby alleviating swelling and discomfort.

What happens if You Don’t Treat Leg Swelling?

An untreated swollen leg can lead to complications ranging from impaired mobility to life-threatening medical emergencies. In minor cases, the persistent swelling will cause chronic pain and discomfort. However, in the worst-case scenario, a neglected swollen leg can lead to amputation of the limb and even death. Prompt medical attention plays a crucial role in preventing complications and properly managing the condition.

Need a Peripheral Vascular Disease Evaluation?

Understanding the causes of your unilateral leg swelling is vital for early detection and proper management of underlying causes such as vascular diseases. If you are experiencing any symptoms it is important to consult a specialist who can assist in identifying the cause and determining the best course of action.

You can schedule a peripheral vascular disease evaluation with our team to receive a comprehensive assessment and specialized care. Take a proactive step in prioritizing your health and preventing future complications by scheduling an appointment today. To complement your evaluation, we provide a range of peripheral procedures right in our Center for Advanced Cardiac and Vascular Interventions in LA.

Our board-certified consultants at CACVI bring unparalleled expertise to improve your life. With over 15,000 successful vascular and cardiac procedures, we’re committed to providing the highest standard of care.

By focusing on lifestyle changes and seeing your doctor early you can help keep your legs healthy and prevent a medical emergency. Taking care of yourself now means fewer complications down the road and a better quality of life for years to come.


If you were told you need an amputation, get a second opinion! We are board certified consultants in endovascular interventions committed to improving the quality of your life and the lives of those you love!

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