Swollen feet and ankles are two of the most common medical problems. The more technical term for swollen feet and ankles is peripheral edema or pedal edema.
Thankfully, it’s not always a serious condition. Most of the time, it can be solved without much effort. On the other hand, it can be a sign or symptom of something more severe and will require a professional’s advice and treatment.
Swollen legs, feet, and ankles will occur when there’s a buildup of fluid. This fluid develops in the soft tissues that seep out of the small blood vessels. As a consequence, the sodium level and amount of water in the body increases.
The kidneys react by accelerating blood circulation in the body, but this can cause further leakage and added swelling. The lymphatic system, if working correctly, removes the excess fluid. If it’s not, then more fluid will build up.
There are other reasons for swelling like bleeding, infection, lymphedema, and inflammation. Of course, there’s more. Keep reading to find out other causes and reasons why the feet and ankles swell up.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Causes Swollen Feet and Ankles in Elderly People?
- 2 What Medical Conditions Cause Swollen Feet and Ankles?
- 3 Can Swollen Ankles Cause Blood Clots or DVT?
- 4 Who Can Develop Deep Vein Thrombosis?
- 5 Why Does Standing all Day Cause Swollen Feet and Ankles?
- 6 Can Sitting Down for Too Long Cause the Feet and Ankles to Swell Up?
- 7 Why is Swelling so Prevalent among Pregnant Women?
- 8 Do Feet Swell During Menstruation?
- 9 What Are the Causes of Swollen Ankles in Diabetics?
- 10 What Causes Swollen Ankles in Hot Weather?
- 11 What is the Cause of Swollen Feet and Ankles After Exercise?
- 12 What is the Cause of Swollen Ankles at Night?
- 13 What Causes Swollen Ankles When Traveling?
- 14 When Should You See a Doctor?
- 15 Read Our Latest Posts:
What Causes Swollen Feet and Ankles in Elderly People?
Older adults experience swelling generally because there’s a build-up of fluid. It accumulates around the lower leg in the tissues. It’s exacerbated when an excessive amount of sodium is consumed when they sit for extended periods or suffer from specific health conditions.
It’s not always an emergency or a condition which would require a doctor’s care. However, you should not overlook the swelling as a normal occurrence, especially if it happens frequently.
The causes for swollen feet and ankles in elderly people vary. These symptoms include:
- Advanced aging
- Liver or Kidney Disease
- Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT
- Vascular restrictions
- Congestive Heart Failure or CHF
- Lymphatic insufficiency
- Infections in the hips or legs
- Side effects of surgery (lower body)
Peripheral edema has two categories: non-pitting and pitting. Individuals with pitting edema will know because when someone touches the swollen area, the skin won’t bounce back.
Tight-fitting stockings or socks will leave an indentation in the skin, while the skin will return to normal in someone with non-pitting edema. With this said, if one foot is swollen, there could be a problem. Perhaps, an injury or problems due to a vein.
If there is evidence of swelling in both feet, it could be a systemic issue and it can affect the entire body.
What Medical Conditions Cause Swollen Feet and Ankles?
Depending on the intensity of an injury, it will cause the feet and ankles to swell immediately. The soft tissues lead to swelling and generally, it’s limited to one foot or ankle. On a negative note, it could be an indication of something serious and will require attention right away.
If an ankle is so swollen it’s painful, warm and red, accompanied by shortness of breath and or fever plus the symptoms last for over 24 hours, see the doctor.
Congestive heart failure and heart disease are common causes of swelling in the feet and ankles. If the heart isn’t functioning properly, it means blood is not getting to it as it should.
The pressure is building so much, so the vessels are starting to leak fluid into the neighboring tissues. The fluid will begin to gravitate toward the feet and sadly, it will not get any better that day.
The kidneys are critical to the body performing efficiently. Their role is to get rid of the excess fluids from the body and maintain salt levels and remove fluids.
If the kidneys are malfunctioning, the body will start to build up the pressure and cause the fluid to seep out around the tissues. Swelling is at its peak first thing in the morning and is one of the top signs of kidney problems.
Can Swollen Ankles Cause Blood Clots or DVT?
Clots block blood vessels and prevent blood from freely flowing from the leg to the heart. This condition will only get worse while walking or standing still and it may feel warm to touch with a bit of redness.
If the clot is in a major artery, then it’s called deep vein thrombosis or DVT. It is a common problem although many people have not heard of it before. Nonetheless, about two million people have it and aren’t even aware of it.
Who Can Develop Deep Vein Thrombosis?
When it comes to who can get a blood clot, some people are more at risk than others. The risk factors increase as we get older and doubles as the decades accumulate after an individual reaches 40 years old.
Some other factors will increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis include:
- Varicose veins
- Leg paralysis
- Surgery requiring anesthesia
- Pregnancy or childbirth
- Extended periods where one sits or stands
- Vaginal ring, birth control pills [estrogen]
- Traveling long distances
The pain occurs in the legs, one at a time as well as worsens when you pull the toes upward. The area is also warm and appears to be red. DVT is nothing to take lightly. It has the potential to be fatal. Unfortunately, a person can have it and not have any symptoms at all.
Because the clot tends to break and travel, it can be a life-threatening condition. This is called pulmonary embolism or PE. The signs are chest pain and shortness of breath, which can be confused with other medical conditions.
The sad thing is if the damage is severe, a person can die if they don’t receive treatment right away. Because of this, it’s important an individual is diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Of the people who develop DVT, a quarter of those people actually pass away.
Oddly, as a combined total, that’s more than the people who die from AIDS and breast cancer during a year.
Why Does Standing all Day Cause Swollen Feet and Ankles?
If someone has been standing all day at work or even sitting all day without moving around, it stands to reason their feet will swell. Why though?
Well, it’s because a buildup of fluid starts to form around the feet. The technical term for this is edema, and there are two kinds. They are known as non-pitting and pitting edema.
If a person falls under any one of these categories, they could be at risk of developing edema.
- Weight problems
- Infections of the leg
Being in a standing position a long time can cause fluid to back up and prevent circulation. As a result, the feet and ankles swell and it’s uncomfortable. To prevent swelling, the person should walk around after about an hour of standing. If leaving the area is not possible, walk in place to get the blood flowing or stretch or kick the legs out to keep fluid moving.
Here are some tips that will help to improve blood circulation to the feet.
Can Sitting Down for Too Long Cause the Feet and Ankles to Swell Up?
Edema occurs as water get trapped in the body’s tissues. There are many reasons this happens. It could be that gravity pulls the fluid down to the legs and the feet usually while one has been sitting for too long.
On the other hand, venous insufficiency is another cause of swollen feet and legs. The veins in a person’s leg don’t work as well when they retain fluid. The fluid should circulate throughout the body, but if the vessels are not functioning properly, the skin retains fluid.
The negative side to this is cellulitis, skin infections or wounds. To keep the blood flowing, wiggle the legs by making quick movements up and down as if walking. Another option is to bring the knees up toward the ceiling one at a time as if marching.
The other alternative is to use the toes to lift the feet and legs up and down or get up and take a short walk, sip on a bottle of water and elevate the legs. Other are using specialist devices, such as the Revitive Circulation Booster.
Why is Swelling so Prevalent among Pregnant Women?
It’s a well-known fact pregnant women suffer from swelling. Other than a swollen stomach, the legs, hands, feet, and ankles swell from time to time. How many of us know why pregnant women swell?
Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons:
- Weight gain. The added pounds put more pressure on her legs and feet.
- Hormones cause a pregnant woman to do all sorts of things, including swell and retain body fluids.
- Because pregnancy causes the uterus to expand, it puts more pressure on the vessels in the legs and feet.
Thankfully, the swelling goes away with the baby is born. Until then, there are a few things a new mother can do to help alleviate the swelling.
How to Prevent Swollen Feet and Ankles During Pregnancy
- Avoid standing for extended periods. It’s best the expecting mother stays off her feet as much as possible.
- Sitting down is the easy part, however, when sitting, prop the feet up. This will stretch the calf muscles.
- If laying down is more comfortable, elevate the feet.
- When sleeping, choose the left side to do it on. This will take some of the pressure off the vein which returns the blood supply. Experts also suggest propping the legs by putting a pillow between them while laying down.
- Compression stockings support the legs so, try wearing them during the day.
- Perform physical activities while pregnant. Talk a stroll, swim a few laps or ride an exercise bike.
- Besides needing the room to grow, loose-fitting clothing is best during pregnancy. Having too tight clothes on will decrease blood flow. Also, wearing tight-fitting socks or stockings is also a bad idea.
Researchers believe getting a foot massage with help decrease swelling in the feet and ankles during pregnancy. You can get an electric foot massager machine to make life easier. Reflexology will help reduce swelling. It works by applying pressure to the ears, hands, and feet.
However, they do not suggest cutting back on the amount of water one should drink during the day. During pregnancy, the mother should consume about 10 cups of fluids each day, preferably clear liquids.
Do Feet Swell During Menstruation?
When a woman gets her period, it’s normal to feel a little bloated and puffy. Sometimes, this feeling shows up, particularly in the feet. This feeling is normal. Fluid retention is common during menstruation. It can happen both during your period and for a few days leading up to it. When your body holds onto this fluid, and gravity does its job, it can show up as swelling in the feet and ankles.
While it can be tempting to indulge in foods high in salt, sugar, and oil during menstruation, these are the foods you should avoid if you want to lower your water retention.
The more salt that gets into your system, the more your body will want to hold onto water. To make yourself feel better and look better while you’re on your period, drink plenty of water and eat a healthy, balanced diet. You can prop your feet up in the evenings to reduce swelling, too.
If you take birth control pills or other types of hormone replacements, swelling may also be a side effect. Fluctuations in hormones through your body can cause fluid retention and it will pool in your legs, ankles, and feet.
What Are the Causes of Swollen Ankles in Diabetics?
The feet should receive special care if diabetic. In addition, there should be special attention given to the ankles and feet. If they’re swollen, it could be an indication of a more serious health problem.
Poor circulation in the legs, feet, and ankles could be a sign of nerve damage or neuropathy. If this condition becomes serious, there could be a high price to pay. Diabetics should be checking their feet every day to prevent any delays in seeking treatment.
Amputation could become necessary if neuropathy is left untreated. With this said, get medical attention right away if swelling of the feet is consistent and bothersome.
What Causes Swollen Ankles in Hot Weather?
Hot weather can bring on several unwanted health risks, including swelling. Believe it or not, swelling in hot weather isn’t unheard of. It occurs mainly due to the heat effects to the blood vessels.
When the body becomes overheated, it’s usually due to an inefficiency of the blood flow. The heart simply isn’t getting the blood it needs to function correctly. Gravity, also, has a huge part in how swelling affects the lower body.
Fortunately, it’s not a life or death situation. It’s safe to say edema is uncomfortable. The excess fluids make the skin bright and tight.
Who is Most at Risk of Edema?
It’s not uncommon for the feet to swell during the summer or rather, while it’s hot. This happens to almost everyone who is inclined to suffer from (heat) edema. These are people who have specific medical problems which affect the major organs.
The heart, lungs, and kidneys play a significant role in maintaining the fluid levels in the body. Pregnant women, people who are overweight and the aging are all individuals who are at a higher risk than others to develop edema.
At the same time, young people and those who don’t’ have any health concerns are not immune to developing edema. Those who enlist in the armed forces and even athletes can have edema, particularly if they are out in the heat for a long time.
Not to mention if they are engaging in activities in the hot sun which are strenuous. Often, this is true for the military men and women. How do you prevent heat edema? Let’s find out.
How Do I Prevent Heat Edema?
Preventing heat edema is simple when you do the following:
- The feet are elevated. Place the feet above your heart. This will help to drain the fluid, providing a person rest themselves for about a half an hour or so, a few times per day.
- Drink plenty of liquids. The vessels dilate during the time the body’s overheated. This is the body’s process of cooling down. Not enough water will only cause an imbalance in the salt and water intake. The sodium levels go up resulting in fluid retention and swollen ankles and feet.
- Stay out of the sun’s way as much as possible during peak hours. If it’s necessary that an individual must be outside, take as many breaks as they can. Sit in the shade if possible and keep a fan handy to help cool things down a bit.
What is the Cause of Swollen Feet and Ankles After Exercise?
Swelling in the legs and ankles are caused by exercise. However, exercise can assist in improving blood circulation.
It’s best to identify the triggers of swollen feet and ankles and to understand what to do about it when it happens. Seeing a doctor can identify the problem and provide a solution for edema. First, let’s take a look at what causes swollen feet and ankles after exercise.
Sets of exercises when the weights are heavy can have an adverse effect a person’s health. It can cause swelling in the legs and ankles.
The American College of Sports Medicine tells us muscles strains happen when muscle fiber damage occurs, but this happens over a period. This is why it’s vital to muscle flexibility that athletes stretch before working out.
Medial Tibial Stress
Medial tibial stress syndrome is the most typical injury when it comes to the legs. What is medial tibial stress syndrome? It occurs “…when the membrane surrounding the bone, known as the periosteum, becomes inflamed.”
It is painful, red, and the leg swells when the bodybuilder applies weight to the body or do activities such as jogging. The experts at the college recommend the athletes stay off the injury for at least ten days and receive treatment for medial tibial stress syndrome.
People may have different symptoms if they have congenital heart defects. Some of those signs include shortness of breath and extreme fatigue. Mainly, symptoms show while exercising explains the Mayo Clinic.
Defects can be life-threatening, although they were likely diagnosed before childbirth. Those not as serious, are discussed during childhood or possibly, early on in the stages of adulthood. Heart disease caused by a heart valve which isn’t functioning properly can cause swelling as well.
It’s crucial to have a moderate exercise program in place to help reduce exacerbations. So, speak with the receptionist and make an appointment with the doctor before beginning a workout program. Work with your doctor to create an exercise program that is effective.
What is the Cause of Swollen Ankles at Night?
During pregnancy, the ankles swell and it’s to be expected as well as swelling after an accident or injury. However, if a person experiences swelling specifically at night, there may be an inherent reason for it. If these signs are accompanied by other conditions, see your doctor.
Polyuria and Heart Failure
If someone has congestive heart failure, they are prone to swollen ankles. The heart grows weak and is not able to pump effectively the blood that runs through the body. The consequence is fluid buildup in the limbs.
Likely, the legs and ankles will swell and develop what doctors call peripheral edema. They also say this kind of (right-sided) heart failure can lead to polyuria. Polyuria is another name for frequent or steady urination but at night.
The body releases excess fluid into the body overnight. Therefore, people make a few more trips to the bathroom to urinate. In addition to this symptom are shortness of breath and an overwhelming feeling of being tired.
Blood flows from the leg to the heart but when it can’t, it causes swelling during the night. Of course, the swelling may be gone by the morning time, because the person is lying down. This negates the effects of gravity that pulls the blood down to the leg.
Another possibility is varicose veins. To help blood move up the leg, the veins have valves which are separated only by a few inches. The valves tend to leak, but the elevation restricts the blood from draining. Another possible diagnosis is lymphedema or blockage in the lymph system.
What Causes Swollen Ankles When Traveling?
Who hasn’t been there? Taking a long trip on an airplane can swell the legs, feet, and ankles. The Mayo Clinic says it’s nothing to worry about. It’s temporary and will go away. It can happen if a person is on a train or a long bus ride as well.
On occasion, swelling causes DVT, but if the individual is not at risk for DVT, chances are slim it will happen. Who’s at risk? People who are obese, aging or have certain medical conditions or a blood clot.
To help prevent swelling while traveling, use these tips:
- Be sure to put on clothes that are not binding or restrict blood flow.
- Wear shoes anyone can slip on and slip off like a pair of flip-flops.
- Move about the plane, train or bus when possible.
- Drink more water. It’s easy to become dehydrated because of the climate control settings on public transportation.
- Stay away from alcohol and caffeine.
- Say no to foods containing salt.
Remember, blood clots or DVT are serious conditions and can be fatal. A person doesn’t always have signs to diagnose a blood clot before it becomes serious. What happens is that a clot will clog a small vein and block blood flow to major organs.
When Should You See a Doctor?
On a larger scale, clots can cause the leg to swell, or a person will have pain in the leg. If a problem is suspected, make an appointment to see the doctor right away. Talk to the physician about your concerns and schedule testing to determine reasons for swelling.
Certain kinds of swelling can’t be treated at home and will need a physician’s help.
The doctor may prescribe:
- Blood chemistry panel or Complete Blood Count [CBC]
- X-rays or the upper body or lower extremities
Taking a low dose aspirin daily will help to prevent blood clots, however, speak with the doctor before beginning an aspirin a day regime. There may be other medications to consider before taking. It could be counterproductive to take them, so find out first.
The risks are minimal for some and others, and edema could be something serious. The stakes are much higher for someone suffering from heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes. Include a regular but mild exercise routine and healthy eating habits to the daily agenda.
The doctor may prescribe a diuretic to reduce fluid. It’s also important to drink lots of water to prevent dehydration. To help eliminate swelling while waiting for the appointment, elevate the legs and feet and keep active.
Edema is typically managed by treating the cause of the volatility of levels of fluid buildup. Avoid sitting or standing for too long in one place. When the legs swell overnight – it will usually disappear by morning. Make the lifestyle changes to improve and to prevent worsening conditions.