Healthy Living

What Causes Swollen Ankles and Feet?

What Causes Swollen Ankles and Feet?

Key Takeaways

  • Trauma is the most common cause of ankle or foot swelling in men and non-pregnant women. 
  • Sometimes, swelling can be a sign of a heart, liver, or kidney disease. 
  • Ankle and feet swelling can also be a sign of an infection.

Swelling of the ankles and feet are a common everyday experience. Either you or a loved one may have experienced ankle swelling at some point of your lives. It is that common and is not a usual cause for concern, especially if you have been standing or walking for a long period of time. However, ankle or foot swelling can be a symptom of other serious health problems as well, particularly, if it is accompanied by other symptoms. Therefore, it is helpful to learn about the common causes of ankle and foot swelling. It will help you to take action if it is something serious. 

So, what are the causes of ankle or foot swelling?

There are many causes why your feet and ankles swell. In this article, a few common causes are elaborated below.

1. Pregnancy complication

Ankle swelling is a common symptom experienced by most pregnant women due to the increase in the blood volume. However, sometimes, ankle swelling can be due to a pregnancy complication, especially if you experience a sudden onset of ankle or foot swelling or excessive swelling.

Such presentation may be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious condition that you develop due to an increase in your blood pressure and urinary proteins after the 20th week of pregnancy.

If you suddenly or excessively develop swelling of your ankles and feet and if the swelling is associated with other symptoms such as frequent headaches, abdominal pain, infrequent urination, nausea, vomiting, or changes in your vision, consult your doctor immediately.

2. Trauma to your foot or ankle

Trauma is the most common cause of ankle or foot swelling in men and non-pregnant women. Out of all the types of trauma, a sprained ankle is the commonest. A sprained ankle can result when an injury or a missed step stretches the ligament in your ankle beyond its normal range.

To reduce ankle swelling, which occurs following an injury, do the following steps:

  • Avoid moving the injured leg. A bed rest is needed to reduce the swelling.
  • Apply ice to the injured area with the use of ice packs.
  • Wrap your swollen ankle or foot with a bandage.
  • Keep the injured leg elevated on a stool or a pillow.

If your swelling does not subside with the above remedies, see your healthcare professional as soon as possible.

3. Lymphedema

If you have a problem in your lymphatic drainage, then swelling could result due to the accumulation of the lymphatic fluid. This condition is called as lymphedema. The lymphatic fluid is a protein-rich fluid. It is filtered in your lymph nodes, which trap and eliminate unwanted substances such as bacteria.

If you have a problem with your lymph nodes or vessels, the flow of the lymphatic fluid can be blocked, which results in the accumulation of the lymphatic fluid in the ankles and foot, hence, the swelling. If you have this condition and do not get yourself treated, then it could impair wound healing and may lead to infections.

Lymphedema is also a common complication following a radiation therapy or surgery for cancer treatment since both treatments involve the removal of the lymph nodes. If you have just undergone treatment for cancer and are now experiencing swelling, visit your oncologist as early as possible.

4. Disease of the heart, liver, or kidney

Sometimes, swelling can be a sign of a heart, liver, or kidney disease. For this reason, you need to be aware of your ankle or foot swelling and should not take it lightly if it worsens. If you have a heart condition, your ankles tend to swell towards the evening as a result of salt and water retention.

Kidney disease can also result in the swelling of your ankles and feet. Your kidneys are the main excretory organs in your body. They filter your blood and remove all of the toxins in your body. If your kidneys fail to function properly, fluid can accumulate in your body that will eventually result in swelling.

Your liver is an organ involved in the synthesis of many proteins. It is also responsible for the production of albumin. Albumin is a protein that helps keep your blood within the vessels without leaking out. If you have a liver disease, the synthesis of albumin is affected. Without albumin, fluid cannot be retained within the blood vessels. This condition results in ankle and leg swelling due to gravity. However, there can also be a fluid buildup in your abdomen and chest.

If you have other symptoms associated with ankle and foot swelling such as tiredness, loss of appetite, or weight gain, visit your healthcare provider right away.

5. Venous insufficiency

Venous insufficiency is a condition in which blood inefficiently moves up in the veins from the legs towards your heart. Your veins carry blood only in one direction with the help of the one-way valves. If these valves get damaged or weakened, there is a backflow of blood towards your legs. This backflow results in the accumulation of fluid in your legs and ankles, thereby, causing your ankles and feet to swell. If you have been suffering from this condition for a long period of time, you may develop changes in your skin such as skin ulcers and infections. If you have these signs, visit your healthcare provider immediately.

6. Blood clots (thrombosis)

If blood clots are produced in your legs, then these clots can block the veins and prevent the flow of blood. Blood clots can either occur within the superficial or deep veins. However, clots in the deep veins are more common and dangerous as these clots can break off and travel to your heart and lungs. If you have ankle swelling that is associated with pain, a low-grade fever, and a change in the color of your leg, call your healthcare provider as soon as possible since you will need immediate treatment using blood-thinning drugs.

7. Infection in your lower legs

Ankle and feet swelling can be a sign of an infection. People with diabetes mellitus develop complications such as diabetic neuropathy and other nerve problems. For this reason, they have a higher risk of developing foot infections. You may not feel any pain following an injury and will only know after the infection gets worse. Thus, if you have diabetes, keep this in mind and inspect your feet every day for any wounds or blisters.