Edema is swelling caused by fluid buildup in tissue. It can occur anywhere in the body, but is often first noticed in the legs, particularly the ankles. It occurs when capillaries leak fluid, usually due to built-up pressure. In response to this, the kidneys hold on to higher levels of water and sodium than usual to offset the loss. Edema can be caused by health problems, diet, pregnancy, or medications. There are safe ways to treat the discomfort of edema in the legs.
Elevate the legs. The Mayo Clinic recommends several lifestyle changes to treat edema, including elevating swollen legs above the level of the heart for 30 minutes a time at least three times a day. Sleeping with the legs elevated can also be beneficial for people who suffer from edema. A pillow beneath the knees or ankles will usually work.
Exercise. While increasing circulation might seem counterintuitive to decreasing edema, exercise is the lifestyle change recommended the most by doctors. Exercise does not need to be too strenuous, particularly for anyone with health complications. Most people, however, are capable of some form of physician-approved exercise. Moving swollen legs can shift the excess fluid away from the legs and toward the heart.
Reduce your intake of sodium. Excess sodium in food leads to extra sodium in the body and, consequently, fluid buildup. This is especially true for people with compounding health problems. Anyone who already has a problem with swelling should not eat salty food. Avoiding foods high in sodium will help reduce the symptoms associated with edema.
Avoid wide swings in temperature. Extreme temperature changes can cause edema to become worse. Always wear clothing appropriate for the weather conditions, and use sunscreen to prevent sunburns. In addition, avoid excessively hot or cold baths and showers, which will also exacerbate edema.