The swelling of the feet, legs, and ankles is also known as peripheral edema. This refers to a condition where there is an excessive accumulation of fluid in these parts of the body. It is not a painful condition unless the underlying cause for it is an injury to that area. However, it is a very uncomfortable condition to live with. The swelling of the feet, legs and ankles are more common among adults compared to children. You may either develop swelling on both of your legs or just on one side of your leg. Moreover, swelling is not always confined to your feet, legs, and ankles. They may also occur in other parts of your body such as the hands, abdomen, lungs, and heart.
A mild ankle swelling is a common experience and is usually not something to worry about. However, sometimes ankle swelling can be a sign of something serious. Therefore, it is important to learn about the causes and other warning symptoms of ankle swelling. If it is something serious, you may need to get treatment for it right away.
What are the causes of foot, leg, and ankle swelling?
There are many causes of foot, leg, and ankle swelling. In many of the cases, swelling occurs as a result of lifestyle practices such as:
- Obesity – The excess fat content in your body reduces the blood circulation, which results in the accumulation of fluid within your feet, legs, and ankles.
- Standing for a long period of time – When you are standing in one place for a long period of time without any movements, your muscles are inactive, and when they are inactive, the blood in your lower legs cannot be pumped up towards your heart. This inactivity leads to the retention of water and blood in the feet, legs, and ankles.
The swelling of your feet, legs, and ankles can also occur as a side effect of some of the medications you take. Some of the common drugs that cause swelling include:
- estrogen and testosterone
- antidepressant drugs such as tricyclic antidepressants (TCAS) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
These drugs increase the viscosity of your blood, thus, reducing the blood circulation. The condition eventually leads to the accumulation of fluid and blood in your lower extremities. If you think your foot, leg, or ankle swelling is due to one of your drugs, talk to your doctor about it but do not stop taking those drugs until you speak with your doctor.
Certain medical conditions or body changes can also result in foot, leg, and ankle swelling.
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy – When you are pregnant, your body undergoes several changes including changes in estrogen and progesterone levels. The fluctuating levels of these hormones can reduce the circulation within the legs, and hence, fluid accumulates in the feet, legs, and ankles.
- Blood clots in the leg
- Injury to the feet or ankles
- Venous insufficiency
- Lymphedema, which is also known as lymphatic obstruction
- Preeclampsia – is a condition where you develop a high blood pressure during pregnancy. The raised blood pressure reduces the circulation, thus, causing swelling of the face and feet.
- Liver cirrhosis
When should you visit your doctor regarding this problem?
Mild foot, leg, and ankle swelling is not a medical concern. All of us have had such an experience at least one time in our lives. However, this is not the case for everyone. Sometimes, your ankle swelling may be signaling you that something really bad is taking place in your body.
You should consult your doctor as early as possible if you have any of the following:
- You are pregnant and you have developed sudden or severe swelling.
- Your swelling seems to get worse day-by-day.
- You are a heart or kidney disease patient and are experiencing swelling
- If you have been diagnosed with a liver disease such as hepatitis or liver cirrhosis and are experiencing swelling in your feet, legs, and ankles.
- You have a high temperature associated with the swelling.
- You have tried so many home remedies to bring down the swelling but none of them seem to be working.
You have to go to the hospital immediately if you develop the following signs and symptoms together with your foot, leg, and ankle swelling:
- difficulty in breathing or having a shortness of breath
- pain in your legs
- pressure, pain, or tightness in your chest
What happens during your doctor's appointment?
At your appointment, your doctor will first take your full detailed history regarding your signs and symptoms. He or she may ask you the following questions, so be prepared to be able to effectively explain your condition.
- Where is the swelling?
- Where and when did you first notice it?
- What time of the day does it get worse? Towards the evening or in the morning?
- What other symptoms are you experiencing?
- Are there any other factors that you have noted that either makes the condition better or worse?
After taking a history from you, your doctor will move on to do a complete physical examination on you. He or she may examine your affected leg and check how much it has affected your mobility. Following this, your doctor will order some tests in order to make an accurate diagnosis of the swelling. The following tests may be ordered:
- Blood tests - including a complete blood count, renal and liver function tests, as well as serum electrolytes.
- X-ray of the affected leg - to visualize the bones and tissues.
- Ultrasound scans - to visualize your organs, tissues, and blood vessels.
- ECG and echocardiogram - to assess the function of your heart.
Depending on the underlying cause, your doctor will plan your management. If the underlying cause is a lifestyle habit, a minor injury, or anything that is not a big concern, he or she may recommend you home treatment, but if you have a serious underlying health condition, your doctor will prescribe you medications.
How can you treat your foot, leg, and ankle swelling at home?
If your ankle swelling is troublesome and you want to get rid of it, try these home remedies to bring the swelling down.
- Keep your legs elevated when you are lying down. Ideally, they should be kept at a level higher than the heart. You can do this with the help of a few pillows.
- Do not stand or sit for long periods of time. Be active and keep those legs moving.
- Reduce the amount of salt in your diet.
- Drink more water.
- If you are overweight, reduce your weight within the healthy range.
- Use support stockings or compression socks.
- Do some exercises or practice yoga to improve your blood circulation.
- A mild ankle swelling is a common experience and is usually not something to worry about.
- The swelling of your feet, legs, and ankles can also occur as a side effect of some of the medications you take.
- If the underlying cause is a lifestyle habit, a minor injury, or anything that is not a big concern, your doctor may recommend you home treatment, but if you have a serious underlying health condition, he or she will prescribe you medications.