Welcome to Buoy Health

Learn about your swollen calves, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your swollen calves from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Swollen Calves Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having swollen calves.

Take a quiz
Your Swollen Calves May Also be Known as:
Both calves are puffy
Both calves are swollen
Both calves feel puffy
Both calves feel swollen
Calves are puffy
Calves are swollen
Calves feel puffy
Calves feel swollen
Puffiness in both calves
Puffiness in calves

Swollen Calves Symptoms

Swelling is the result of fluid buildup that gets trapped in your body's tissues. Buildup can occur when there is obstruction and fluid cannot properly flow and/or drain. However, fluid buildup can also occur when an area of the body becomes inflamed, injured or damaged. The small blood vessels in the body begin to leak fluid. Moreover, the body can bring in white blood cells to repair the damage, and more fluid follows. Depending on the cause, the swelling can be generalized and occur throughout the body, or localized and only affect a specific part of the body.

The legs are gravity-dependent. Gravity pulls blood down to whichever part of the body is closest to the ground – so swollen calves can occur as the result of both generalized and localized swelling. Localized calf swelling is easy to identify as the affected leg will appear larger than the other; however, generalized swelling that affects both calves (edema) can be difficult to discern.

If you are having trouble deciding if your calves are swollen, take notice of these swollen calves symptoms that are also often associated with this condition:

  • Stretched or shiny skin
  • Skin that dimples or dents after pressing on the affected area for a few seconds (pitting)
  • Stiffness or limited range of motion
  • Warmth or redness of the affected area
  • Pain
  • Cramping or soreness
  • Feeling of heaviness or tightness

If you notice any of these swollen calves symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor promptly in order to follow-up, get a diagnosis and receive appropriate care.

Swollen Calves Causes Overview

As stated above, fluid buildup can occur in the case of obstruction.

In the case of fluid leakage, there are three general mechanisms that can occur that result in fluid buildup in the surrounding tissues of the leg:

  • Excessive force or pressure inside the blood vessels
  • A force external to the blood vessel that can cause fluid to be drawn out
  • Damage or destruction to the blood vessel wall leading to fluid loss.

The exact causes behind these mechanisms can be broad, ranging from benign to life-threatening, so it is important to make an appointment with your doctor in order to get appropriate care.

Systemic causes:

  • Circulatory: Problems with the heart and its ability to pump effectively will cause blood to back up in the lower body. This causes excessive pressure in the blood vessels that causes damage and further leakage of fluid into the body's tissue.Furthermore, if the veins of the peripheral circulatory system are weakened or damaged, swelling will occur in a similar manner.
  • Lymphatic: The lymphatic system is the body's way of clearing excess fluid from tissues.It is composed of multiple lymph nodes and vessels (lymphatics) that when damaged can cause swelling all over the body, especially the legs and calves.
  • Kidney: The kidney is a regulator of bodily fluid and responsible for filtering and clearing the blood. With kidney dysfunction, filtrate such as proteins, electrolytes and toxins can remain in the blood and act as forces that draw fluid out.

Environmental causes:

  • Positional: Since the legs are gravity-dependent, swelling in the calves can result from inactivity due to sickness, sitting or standing for too long at work, and even wearing too tight clothing.
  • Medication: Swelling in the calves can be a side effect of many medications that treat common conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and menopause.
  • Diet: Diets high in sodium can cause overload of the body's filtering mechanisms. The extra salt in the blood will cause fluid to be drawn out from the vessels causing swelling.

Inflammatory causes:

  • Arthritis: Arthritis includes multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness of the bones and joints. Arthritic processes that affect the knees and ankles can cause irritation that often leads to injury. Furthermore, arthritis in the joints of the lower extremity predispose people to inactivity, making swelling even more likely.
  • Cysts: Cysts are sacs that can be filled with fluid, air or other material that can form in any part of the body. The body recognizes these fluid-filled structures as foreign and the body often mounts a reparative response that results in swelling around the cyst.

Top 5 Swollen Calves Causes

  1. 1.Restrictive Cardiomyopathy

    Restrictive cardiomyopathy refers to a set of changes in how the heart muscle functions. These changes cause the heart to fill poorly (more common) or squeeze poorly (less common). Sometimes, both problems are present.

    You should seek immediate medical care at an ER, where an ultrasound can confirm the diagnosis, blood tests can determine the cause of the problem, and treatment is needed immediately to stabilize you.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, racing heart beat, shortness of breath when lying down
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  2. 2.Stress - Induced Cardiomyopathy

    In this recently recognized heart problem, extreme emotional stress can lead to severe (but often short-term) heart muscle failure. Broken heart syndrome is also called stress-induced cardiomyopathy.

    You should visit your primary care physician within the next 24 hours. Your doctor will likely prescribe heart medications to reduce the workload on the heart while you recover.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, racing heart beat, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone, excessive sweating, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Swollen Calves Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having swollen calves.

    Take a quiz
  3. 3.Eisenmenger Syndrome (Tardive Cyanosis)

    Eisenmenger syndrome is a complication due to a heart defect. The defect causes increased blood flow to the lungs instead of the body.

    You should visit your primary care physician, who can prescribe medications that improve your quality of life. Surgery is usually not recommended when the syndrome has developed.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, racing heart beat, shortness of breath on exertion, shortness of breath when lying down, lightheadedness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Goodpasture Syndrome

    Goodpasture syndrome is an autoimmune disorder, which means immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. Persons with this syndrome develop substances that attack a protein called collagen in the tiny air sacs in the lungs and the filtering units (glomeruli) of the kidneys.

    You should seek immediate medical care at an urgent care clinic or ER as this syndrome is fatal unless quickly diagnosed and treated.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle aches, nausea, fever
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Cushing Syndrome

    Cushing Syndrome is a hormonal disorder. The cause is long-term exposure to too much cortisol, a hormone that the adrenal gland makes. Sometimes, taking synthetic hormone medicine like corticosteroids to treat an inflammatory disease leads to Cushing's syndrome.

    Your treatment will depend on why your have too much cortisol. If it is because you have been taking synthetic hormones, a lower dose may control your symptoms. If the cause is a tumor, surgery and other therapies may be needed, so a doctor's consultation in the near future is best.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, headache, weight gain, back pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Swollen Calves Treatments and Relief

Treatment for systemic causes of calf swelling are often treated with medication.

Your doctor may suggest:

  • Diuretics: These are medications, also known as "water pills," that increase the water and salt your body excretes in the urine. This strategy helps reduce the fluid trapped in the body and your calves.
  • Non-inflammatory medications: Your doctor may prescribe this type of medication to combat arthritic processes that are causing swollen calves symptoms.
  • Medication to treat the underlying cause: Swelling is usually the result of systemic issues that require complex treatment plans.

Fortunately, swelling in the calves can be mitigated by many strategies and remedies you can perform at home:

  • Activity: Moving your legs and staying active can help pump any excess fluid pooling in the legs back toward your heart.
  • Elevate: Place your legs above the level of your heart as much as possible. Elevating the legs during sleep or sitting can help significantly with calf swelling.
  • Compress: Your doctor may prescribe compression stockings for your legs. These garments keep pressure on your limbs to prevent fluid from collecting in the tissue.
  • Protect: Keep your swollen calves clean and free from injury. Dry, cracked skin is more prone to scrapes, cuts and infection.
  • Dietary changes: Reducing salt intake can be an important step in reducing your swelling. Salt can increase fluid retention and worsen swelling in your calves.

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience sudden onset of swelling in one leg associated with pain in your calf muscle. This can be due to a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) in one of your leg veins which is a medical emergency.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Calves

  • Q.Is your lower leg swelling getting better or worse?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our swollen calves symptom checker.

Take a quiz

Swollen Calves Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced swollen calves have also experienced:

    • 7% Fatigue
    • 6% Swelling of Both Feet
    • 4% Frequent Urination
  • People who have experienced swollen calves had symptoms persist for:

    • 32% Over a Month
    • 27% Less Than a Week
    • 18% Less Than a Day
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Swollen Calves Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having swollen calves.

Take a quiz