Water in the legs – swollen legs

Common cause: Venous disorders

Water in the legs – swollen legs

Water retention in the legs

Visible and touchable fluid accumulations under the skin are known as oedemas. If you suffer from heavy legs with swollen ankles there can be various reasons for this.

Water in the legs: Risk factors and causes

The reasons for a patient suffering from swollen legs should always be clarified by a doctor. The most frequent cause of fluid in the legs is a vein weakness. But organ problems or metabolic disorders can also cause swollen legs:

Venous oedema

One possible cause could be venous disease. Particularly if the patient does not exercise enough, the venous valves do not close properly any more, the blood is not entirely transported towards the heart any more and the pressure in the veins in the legs increases. Then fluid is released from the smallest blood vessels, the capillaries, into the tissue. This “water in the legs” is a venous oedema (phleboedema). The swelling usually begins in the ankles because the pressure is highest there, owing to the large volume of blood in the leg veins.

Swollen legs

can also be a symptom of heart failure. If the heart no longer pumps correctly, because of a heart muscle weakness for example, the pressure in the leg veins is increased owing to the blood volume that has not been transported further.


With lymphoedema, the leg swelling usually occurs on one side. This indicates that the lymphatic vessel system is not working correctly.

Metabolic disorders

Disorders in the balances of protein, fluid and minerals also influence the exchange of fluids in the body. People who have a kidney, liver or thyroid disorder often have problems with swollen legs.

Further possible causes could be tumours, allergies, medicines, hormone disorders or fluctuations. Therefore, if you suffer from swollen legs you should consult a doctor to establish the cause. The doctor can then suggest the treatment measures that would be appropriate.

Why do weak veins cause swollen legs?

The calf muscle pump of a person who is sitting or standing person does not work sufficiently. Blood collects in the veins and there is a continous increase of pressure (venous hypertension). This can lead to increased transfer of fluid from the blood vessel system into the tissue of the leg, where this shows as swelling.  

Swollen legs during pregnancy

Swollen legs often occur during pregnancy. The amount of blood in the body increases – as does the pressure in the veins. This makes fluid leak into the surrounding tissue. The legs become heavy and swollen. This is known as “water in the legs”.

More about venous diseases during pregnancy

What helps with water retention in the legs?

Basic therapy: Medical compression stockings

The basic therapy for venous disorders is wearing medical compression stockings. Many studies show that a venous oedema can be treated very effectively with medical compression stockings.1 The swelling is significantly reduced by wearing them.

They are particularly effective in combination with exercise: The muscle pumps are activated and the venous valves close better, meaning that blood is transported to the heart more effectively. Medical compression stockings alleviate the symptoms (sensation of heaviness, tightness, pain, swelling) of chronic venous disease and increase quality of life. Find out more about vein therapy here.

Which doctors treat water retention in the legs?

In order to ascertain the cause of swelling in the legs, the GP first asks the patient about their medical history (anamnesis) including the symptoms and possible known comorbidities.

The doctor can then also assess the condition of the tissue by inspecting it and feeling it and identify possible swelling. kann der Arzt über eine Sicht- und Tastuntersuchung (Inspektion und Palpation) den Gewebezustand beurteilen und mögliche Schwellungen erkennen.

vein specialist (phlebologist) is able to visualise the blood flow in the veins using a painless ultrasound examination (doppler sonography, duplex sonography). This will establish whether the cause of the problem is the surface veins or the deep vein leg system.

medi compression stockings

medi compression stockings

Thanks to their breathable, stretchy material, medical compression stockings are very comfortable for men and women to wear and are adapted to meet your individual needs as a patient. Profit from modern, technologically advanced & tried-and-tested vein therapy with state-of-the-art medical compression stockings. They look the same as classic fine stockings or knee socks for men, but have an additional vein-supporting function.

Find out more about compression stockings by medi here.


Rabe E et al. Indications for medical compression stockings in venous and lymphatic disorders: An evidence-based consensus statement. Phlebology 2018;33(3):163-184. 

Your doctor makes the diagnosis and decides on the therapy. If necessary, your doctor can prescribe wound therapy products. The patient is advised by trained personnel (e.g. in a medical supply store, pharmacy, wound centre). After this, the patient receives products that are customised to meet their individual needs.