Swelling with no other symptoms - how worried should I be?
July 9, 2014 11:01 PM   Subscribe

My knee is swollen on the top of the knee cap. It's been this way for about a week. I feel no pain, no warmness, no limit to my range of motion, and I don't remember getting hurt. When I press around and feel my knee, again there is no pain, and I also don't feel any bumps or any real structural differences compared to my other knee. There is definitely some thickening (fluid or whatever causes swelling) at the top of the knee cap, about 2.5 inches in diameter, but that's like the only symptom.

I went to a doctor and she said maybe I just hurt myself and didn't remember and it should stop swelling in another week. But that seems weird to me. It just doesn't make any sense. She said if it doesn't get better in a week or two, I should get an x-ray. It's hard to have this swelling in my knee but have no idea what it is. I know I will worry about it. How worried should I be? I know it's mentally unhealthy, but I think "swelling without any pain" and I freak out about cancer.

Also, I'm ashamed to admit I do not exercise, so it's not physical exertion, and I am overweight. I would like to start working out (again) and I am wondering if now this means I need to wait for my knee to be resolved before I can start. I'm female, early 30s.

(I had a problem in this same leg with my calf I asked about a while ago, which was just calf pain, but it seems unlikely to be related. And it hasn't really happened in several months.)
posted by AppleTurnover to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
This sounds a lot like what my uncle just had, and he ended up having a blood clot in his leg that caused all sorts of problems, particularly after his first dumb doctor decided an X-Ray wasn't needed. I would go get a second opinion and insist on an X-ray just to make sure you don't catch something early.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:11 PM on July 9, 2014

It kind of sounds like a bug bite or something similar. Been around any ticks lately?
posted by fshgrl at 12:15 AM on July 10, 2014

It sounds a lot like bursitis with no pain. It can and does happen.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:03 AM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go back in a week and get the x-ray. If the x-ray proves negative, have them do a sonogram to look for blood clots.
posted by 724A at 8:00 AM on July 10, 2014

I had swelling in the upper outer part of my knee with no other pain. It turned out I tore my meniscus and just didn't know it. This just recently happened in the past month so I understand your reluctance to accept nothing is going on.

I first went to my PCP for something unrelated and mentioned it to her. She looked at it and said it was probably nothing. I then went to my orthopedist because I didn't feel like that made sense and he pressed on the lower inside part of my knee and dang that didn't feel awesome but I didn't feel any pain unless that was pressed.

Anyway, I would get a second opinion. My ortho did x-rays as well. I'm being treated with physical therapy and everything seems to be getting better. Swelling has gone down. Hope it clears up soon!!
posted by whitetigereyes at 8:33 AM on July 10, 2014

Some additional information for you, although I'm answering a little late. Disclaimer: I am not your doctor and this is not medical advice.
- Bursitis and occult injury are possible causes of swelling around the kneecap.
- X rays do not detect blood clots. X rays can only look at your bones and give some vague ideas about the soft tissues, like whether you have a lot of fluid in the joint. This is why x-rays may not be very useful for the issues of swelling in the knee - if you had a broken bone, it would be painful, and if you have a soft tissue injury like a meniscus tear it would require MRI to diagnose (bursitis is also not diagnosed on x-ray). Obviously an MRI is generally reserved for more concerning issues that are either longer-lasting or more problematic to you.
- Blood clots generally do not cause localized areas of swelling a few centimeters in diameter. The swelling associated with blood clots is generally the entire leg from the point of the clot onwards, i.e. at least the ankle but sometimes the entire leg up to the thigh. Cancer is also a very unlikely cause of localized swelling around the kneecap.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:32 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the late reply, treehorn+bunny. It made me feel better. It's been two weeks now and the swelling is still there. I can feel the "padding" of the swelling in my skin on top of my knee. No real changes in terms of feeling anything. Sometimes I think I feel tingling in my toes or little twinges, but I think it's also possible it's just a mental thing because I am worried about my knee. It's not like there is anything so obvious that I am running to the doctor over.

The x-ray will make me feel better in that if cancer is there, it should probably be able to spot it. That's a worse case scenario and everything else is far less worrisome, so I'll be glad to rule it out. Going tomorrow.

This thread made me think I should see an orthopedist after the x-ray. Orthopedists are joint doctors who deal with bones and ligaments and, as far as I can tell, that's what this is. I guess if this is a tear or something, I should at least see what an orthopedist thinks. I know diagnosing yourself online is stupid and probably wrong, but I do think bursitis sounds like the likeliest explanation. I'm just not quite sure how I might've gotten it, which is what gives me pause.

I think a blood clot seems unlikely because I have a vein ultrasound several months ago in my calf in the same leg and that was fine. I mean, maybe that means nothing, but it just seems awfully unlikely. It's not super common that people my age get blood clots.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:33 PM on July 15, 2014

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