Swollen legs and swollen ankles may be alarming, but in an otherwise healthy person they are usually benign and go away after a few hours. They can be the result of fluid retention caused by sitting or standing in the same place for a long time, as one would on a long bus or plane ride. Taking NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can also cause swelling, or edema. Antidepressants and medication for diabetes and hypertension can cause ankles and legs to swell up, as can the hormonal changes of menstruation or pregnancy. A person should be concerned if the swelling persists and is accompanied by shortness of breath. This may be a sign of heart trouble, or trouble with the kidneys or the liver.
Another cause of swollen ankles and swollen legs is a vein disease such as varicose veins. The job of a vein, as oppose to an artery, is to send exhausted blood back to the heart. Like arteries, veins have three walls, but the walls of veins are thinner and less flexible than those of arteries. In larger veins, the inside walls fold in and form valves that keep the blood from flowing backward. Sometimes these veins fail, and the blood flows backwards and causes the vein to become swollen. Plasma, the liquid portion of the blood, can also leak into the tissues around the vein and cause fluid retention. This can lead to swelling, especially in the legs, and the gnarled, blue look of varicose veins.
There are several ways to treat vein disease. In the case of mid-sized veins, our doctors often use sclerotherapy. In this procedure, an agent is injected into the vein that causes it to close up. The body then absorbs it, and another vein takes over its job of pumping blood. A foaming agent can be injected into the vein that does the same thing. Veins that are too small for sclerotherapy are removed through lasers, which simply vaporize them.
For more information about our treatment of vein disease, call our office for a consultation at Advanced Vein and Laser Center.