Peripheral edema is an abnormal fluid retention in the lower legs that cause swelling of tissues in the calves, ankles, legs and feet. Read Thigh Swelling – Upper Leg Swelling to learn about swelling in the upper legs.

Certain medical reasons might cause ankle and leg edema whereas some conditions might contribute to excessive swelling of ankles and feet too. In other words, the fluid retention occurs as a direct or indirect reaction to an underlying disease or condition.

Here are some medical reasons that cause peripheral edema or ankle and fluid retention in legs.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition where the body’s autoimmune system fail to function normally and attacking the joint tissues, causing inflammation and joint damage. It may affect the joint, bones and various parts of the body. The disease usually begins in the hands, wrists and feet. Then it progresses to the shoulders, elbows and hips.

Some of the symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis are pain, stiffness, fatigue, weakness, joint swelling and slight fever. The swelling is soft and squishy. It usually affects the same joints on both the left and right sides of the body.

It’s also common to develop intermittent fluid retention in legs; include swelling of the calves, ankles, legs and feet; as a result of the inflammation to the synovial lining of the joint and blood vessels. Swelling in the ankles and calves may occur too when there’s other medical problem such as phlebitis, lymphedema, heart failure and kidney disease.


Emphysema is a chronic lungs disease that is characterized by the inflammation of the alveoli or air sacks in the lungs. In emphysema, the lungs may lose their ability to shrink properly upon exhalation thus decreasing the amount of air that is inhaled. As a result, waste air is not easily taken off from the lungs and oxygen-rich air is not restored. Patients with emphysema may have difficult time to breath and oftentimes gasp for air. The symptoms of emphysema may develop gradually over many years. These symptoms may include shortness of breath; skipped breaths; insomnia; chronic fatigue; edema of the feet, ankles and legs; wheezing; and excess mucus production.

Cancer of the urinary bladder

Cancer of the urinary bladder is often associated with occupational exposure to chemical substances, smoking tobacco, infections and small pelvis irradiation because of tumors in that area. Symptoms of cancer of the urinary bladder include haematuria (blood in the urine), pain, bladder tenesmus, burning sensation during urination and sometimes temporary retention of urine. The pain in pelvis and around groin as well as fluid retention in legs usually accompanies further symptoms of the disease.

Chronic liver disease

This is another disorder that cause swelling in the ankles. The water retention occurs as a result of insufficient amount of protein albumin in the body which helps to hold fluid in the bloodstream.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)

DVT is a blood clot that develops in the deep veins of the legs or pelvic area or, on rare occasions, the arms. It is not usually causing death but it can become so if a blood clot breaks loose, becoming a pulmonary embolism (PE).

Only parts of the patients with DVT have typical symptoms. When symptoms do show up, the most usual are swelling of one leg (either right leg swelling or left leg swelling), pain or tenderness, skin that is warm to the touch, fullness of the veins just below the skin and discoloration of the leg (bluish or very pale).

Heart disease

Heart disease is a disorder in which the heart fails to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body as well as it should. Because of this, the sufferers may feel tired or weak. Certain heart disorder like congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy disease and heart valve disease will cause fluid retention in the legs, ankles, feet and even the lungs. This occurs because the kidneys need to counterbalance the seeming loss of fluid due to the heart problems by retaining more salt and water in the body.

Kidney disorders

Fluid will start to accumulate and eventually cause swelling around the face, eyes, ankles, legs and feet when the kidneys are unable to excrete enough salts into the urine.

Lung disorder

COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis is some of the lung disorders that lead to ankles and feet edema. Ankles and feet edema occur when the lung can not function properly causing the blood from the heart fail to reach the lungs, the blood back up, build up and finally leak into the bodily tissues.

Venous Insufficiency

Venous insufficiency often causes localized water retention in the legs. The water retention may lead to a right leg swelling, left leg swelling or both legs swelling depend which limb is affected.

Other cause of peripheral edema is brawny edema caused by lymphedema and lipedema.

Fluid retention in legs occurs not only due to certain medical reason but it can happen also as a result of other factors such as hormonal, underlying condition and side effects of certain drugs. You can find out more about it in this article, Peripheral Edema – Part 2.