What Causes Swollen Feet & Ankles?

woman swollen feet putting on shoes

Varying reasons may cause ankles and feet to swell. While many may be minor and related to, it’s essential to understand the related signs and symptoms that may point to an underlying medical condition.

Typically, swelling of the feet and ankles

Edema

Edema occurs when fluid is trapped inside the body’s tissues and most commonly affects the legs and feet. 

What Are The Symptoms of Edema?

  • Skin that appears stretched or shiny over the swollen area
  • Discomfort or tightness that may reduce mobility
  • Skin that remains dimpled after applying pressure

While the legs and feet are most frequently affected by edema, it can occur in other places, such as the abdomen or face.

In severe cases, it may impact the lungs, causing difficulty breathing or coughing.

Treatment

If there is no underlying medical condition, edema may very well go away on its own. 

There are home remedies; however, that can help reduce the swelling and keep edema from progressing:

  • Compression stockings
  • Follow a low sodium diet
  • Elevate the legs above the heart when possible
  • Stay hydrated

If the above home remedies do not relieve your symptoms, it is advised that you speak with a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Injury or Trauma 

woman with ankle pain

Ankle sprains, strains, or minor injuries to the foot or ankle can cause swelling.

Treatment

If you suspect that you have a minor foot or ankle injury, the following treatments should help relieve symptoms:

  • Elevate the foot when possible
  • Refrain from bearing weight on the injured foot or ankle
  • Use an ice pack to reduce swelling
  • Try a compression bandage to reduce swelling further
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, or Alleve) to reduce pain and inflammation

If your symptoms do not improve or if the pain worsens, you should consult a doctor to ensure there is not a more severe injury.

Pregnancy

pregnant woman holding her belly

Pregnancy brings on a host of symptoms, including a very common one: swelling. Often, particularly in the latter stages of pregnancy, pregnant women will begin to notice swelling foot swelling and swelling in their ankles. This is due to fluid retention and the increased pressure on the veins in the pelvis and legs.

Treatment

While pregnant, there are some steps you can take at home to reduce swelling:

  • Elevate your feet whenever possible
  • Avoid standing for prolonged periods of time
  • Wear supportive and comfortable shoes
  • Avoid a high-salt diet
  • Increase water intake
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Avoid getting overheated and stay cool
  • Use compression tights or stockings
  • Increase potassium-rich foods

Pregnancy-Related Conditions

Pregnant woman massaging her swollen foot

In some instances, swelling during pregnancy can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as Preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia 

Should you notice swelling that comes of very suddenly and severely, this could be a symptom of Preeclampsia. Preeclampsia occurs during or right after delivery.

How to Detect Preeclampsia:

There are several tests and signs your doctor or midwife will look for when ruling out Preeclampsia:

  • Protein in the urine
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid and excessive fluid retention and swelling

Signs of Preeclampsia:

Should you experience any of the following symptoms while pregnant, contact your doctor right away:

  • Severe swelling
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Vision Changes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Decrease in urination

Treatment

There is no home remedy for Preeclampsia and requires medical intervention for the safety of the mother and baby. Contact your doctor or midwife right away if you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of Preeclampsia.

Diseases or Medical Conditions

Some underlying medical conditions or illnesses can cause swelling in the feet or ankles.

Liver Disease 

When our liver is healthy, it produces a protein called albumin. Albumin works to prevent fluid leaking from our blood vessels into the body’s tissues.

An unhealthy level will lead to lower levels of albumin, which causes a build-up of fluid in the abdomen, legs, and ankles.

Lifestyle changes can help prevent or slow down liver damages:

  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Limit sodium intake
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Get regular exercise

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease occurs when there is damage to the kidneys that can progress and worsen over time.

There are several steps you can take that can prolong and enhance kidney function:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and diet
  • Exercise daily
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Quit smoking
  • Maintain blood sugar levels
  • Follow a low-sodium diet

Heart Failure

Heart disease or heart failure sets in when the heart cannot efficiently pump blood. Also, heart failure impact the kidneys’ ability to remove salt and water from the body, which causes swelling.

There are 3 types of heart failure: congestive heart failure, left-sided, and right-sided heart failure.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection in the skin and causes a range of symptoms, such as:

  • Swelling that spreads quickly
  • Red and warm skin

Antibiotics are needed to treat cellulitis and can become dangerous if left untreated. Contact your doctor if you think you may have cellulitis. Especially if you have diabetes, which increases your chances of developing this condition.

Lymphedema

Lymphedema is the build-up of fluid called lymph and causes swelling in the soft tissues in the arms, legs, and ankles. Lymph is a fluid mainly made up of white blood cells that target infection.

What Causes Lymphedema

Our lymphatic system is a complex network of organs and tissues that target getting rid of the infection and keep our fluid levels balanced. When there is damage or a blockage to the lymphatic system, lymphedema may occur causes the build up of excess fluid. 

Certain medical conditions or illnesses may cause lymphedema, such as hereditary conditions, cancer, or surgical removal of the lymph nodes.

How is Lymphedema Treated?

Several steps to treat lymphedema:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Massage therapy
  • Compression therapy

Chronic Venous insufficiency

woman in pain with CVI symptoms

The most common cause of swelling (edema) is caused by a venous disorder known as ad Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI). Chronic venous insufficiency occurs when the one-way valves in our veins are weakened or damaged, allowing blood to flow backward and pool in the lower limbs.

Chronic venous insufficiency is also the leading cause of varicose veins, which also causes swelling in the lower limbs.

Lifestyle Changes That May Improve CVI Symptoms:

There are several things you can do to improve your symptoms:

  • Elevate the legs
  • Use compression stockings
  • Maintain a healthy weight and diet
  • Exercise regularly

Should lifestyle changes not minimize your symptoms, or should symptoms worsen, contact your healthcare provider to discuss treatment options.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

blood clot vessel

Deep Vein Thrombosis, also known as blood clots or thrombosis, can occur deep in the veins of the leg or arm.  When a blood clot occurs, blood flow is obstructed and cannot return to the heart, causing the blood to build up in the vein.

Over time, and if the vein is not able to divert blood to nearby veins, blood continues to pool, causing swelling.

Steps to Take If You Have A Deep Vein Thrombosis:

  • Use compression stockings
  • Elevate the affected part of the body
  • Use medications such as blood thinners (anticoagulants)

Keep in mind, Deep Vein Thrombosis is a serious medical condition. Consult a medical professional right away if you think you may be suffering from a blood clot, especially if you are experiencing the following symptoms: shortness of breath, fever, or chest past along with swelling in the feet or ankles.

Lifestyle Factors That May Cause Swollen Feet and Ankles

There are several lifestyle factors that may contribute to swollen feet and ankles, such as:

  • Obesity
  • High sodium intake
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Wearing tight or uncomfortable shoes

Lifestyle Changes

Several lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of developing swollen feet and ankles:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and diet
  • Increase your daily activity and exercise
  • Elevate your feet and legs when possible
  • Use compression socks or support stockings
  • Watch your sodium intake
  • Increase potassium-rich foods
  • Soak feet in cool water or an ice bath

Medication Side Effects

Some medications include the side effect of swelling and fluid retention. Below are some drugs that may be more likely to cause swelling.

Types of medication that can cause swelling:

  • Diabetes medicine
  • Antidepressants (such as tricyclics, monoamine oxidase inhibitors)
  • Steroids
  • Hormones (estrogen and testosterone)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and aspirin)
  • Calcium channel blockers (used to help control blood pressure)

If you suspect your medication is causing swelling, contact your doctor to discuss alternative treatments.

When Should I Contact A Doctor About Feet and Ankle Swelling?

woman with swollen feet putting on shoes

You should consult a healthcare professional if you are experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Increase in swelling if pregnant
  • History of heart, liver, or kidney disease
  • Swelling that does not improve or worsens
  • The affected area is hot or red

Can I Prevent Swelling In My Feet and Ankles?

While swelling of the legs and ankles cannot always be prevented, there are steps you can take to help minimize your chance of developing this bothersome symptom:

  • Exercise regularly to maintain healthy blood circulation
  • Maintain a low sodium diet
  • Avoid sitting or standing for long periods
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Veinly uses medical reviewed journals, medical research, and has strict editorial review guidelines by medical professionals. You can read more about  our editorial policy and how our writers produce content for Veinly.

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