Healthy Living

What Could Swollen Feet Mean?

What Could Swollen Feet Mean

Swollen feet can be easily linked to pregnancy, standing for long hours, or injury by most people. These cases are often temporary and not a cause for concern. However, swollen feet can also be experienced by people without these factors and can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, especially when swelling is accompanied by other symptoms. 

Continue reading to know some of the conditions that may cause swollen feet. 

1. Pregnancy

Swollen feet can be an inevitable part of pregnancy. It usually begins when pregnant women are in their second trimester. Pelvic veins tend to be pressed as their baby grows and causes a slight issue in their blood circulation.

Another cause of swollen feet during pregnancy is a hormonal shift. A pregnant woman's placenta produces the hormone called relaxin, which causes cervical dilation and prepares the womb for oxytocin's action during labor. It also causes the pelvic ligaments and foot joints to enlarge and relax. In some women, the swelling of their feet gets worse as their pregnancy progresses. The swelling also tends to get worse during hot days and at the end of the day.

Having swollen feet during pregnancy is not always something to worry about except if there is a rapid onset of swelling of the feet, hands, and face. Seek immediate medical attention if these symptoms are experienced. It could be a sign of pre-eclampsia, which is a potentially life-threatening condition to both mother and baby. 

2. Foot Injuries and Infections

Sprains, strains, broken bones, and other foot injuries can result in swollen feet. Swelling is the result of blood rushing to the affected area of the foot. Treatment of foot injuries usually depends on their severity. Over-the-counter pain relievers are often recommended by doctors. A splint or brace may also be worn. Surgery may even be required in severe cases.

Swollen feet can also be due to certain infections. Individuals with diabetes often have an impaired nerve function and are more prone to developing foot infections that take a longer time to heal. These infections can cause pain, irritation, and redness. Oral or topical antibiotics are prescribed to get rid of the infection.  

3. Alcohol Consumption

After alcohol consumption, more water can be retained in the body and may cause swollen feet. Normally, swelling of the feet goes away on its own, but if the swelling is frequently experienced and persists after a few days, it could be a cause for concern. It can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as kidney, liver, or heart problems. 

4. Kidney Problem

An impaired kidney function can cause sodium retention, which can lead to the swelling of the legs, ankles, or feet. People with kidney problems may also experience any of the following symptoms:

Treatment for kidney problems includes medications and certain dietary and lifestyle changes. However, dialysis or kidney transplant may be required for the treatment of kidney failure. 

5. Liver Disease

Swelling of the feet can also be caused by liver disease. When the liver is damaged, excess fluid can accumulate in the legs and feet. Liver damage is also linked to excessive alcohol consumption, genetic factors, viruses, and obesity

Other symptoms of liver disease are:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Itchy skin
  • Pale, tar-colored, or bloody stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Easy bruising

6. Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure or heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to properly pump blood to meet the body's needs. A disruption of all major functions of the body happens when there is not enough flow of blood. 

Swelling of the feet occurs because blood cannot flow properly. Other symptoms of heart failure include:

  • Chest pain, tightness, or pressure
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath when lying down
  • Persistent coughing with blood-tinged phlegm
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Rapid weight gain due to water retention
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea
  • Poor concentration
  • Fatigue 
  • Swollen abdomen

Heart failure needs immediate treatment and lifelong management, which include medications, medical devices, or surgery. 

7. Lymphedema 

Lymphedema causes swelling in one of your legs or arms, sometimes both. This condition is a result of lymph node damage or removal, which is often part of cancer treatment. Swelling of the feet happens due to the retained lymphatic fluid in the body. 

Aside from soft tissue swelling, other symptoms of lymphedema may include:

  • Recurring infections
  • Fibrosis (skin hardening and thickening)
  • Aching discomfort
  • Limited range of motion
  • A feeling of heaviness or tightness

8. Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) 

People with CVI have damaged valves, which cause a problem in getting blood back to the heart from the legs and feet. This condition causes the legs and feet to swell because of the pooled blood in the veins. Other symptoms of CVI are:

  • Infections
  • Itchy and flaky skin on the legs or feet
  • Heaviness in the legs
  • Varicose veins
  • Tired or aching legs
  • Leathery or hard skin texture

Chronic venous insufficiency can be easily treated if it is early diagnosed. Consult a doctor if you have any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms of CVI. 

9. Blood Clots

Blood clots are clumps of blood that can form in the veins of the legs. These blood clots can affect the flow of blood to the heart, which then leads to the swelling of the feet and ankles. Aside from swelling, blood clot symptoms may also include:

  • Fever
  • Warm sensation (leg or arm)
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Redness in the affected area

10. Side Effect of Medications

Swelling of the feet can also be a side effect of certain medications, such as:

  • Antidepressants
  • Steroids
  • Medications for diabetes
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Hormones (testosterone and estrogen)

Inform your doctor if you notice any swelling of the feet or legs after taking certain medications. A change in medication, dosage, or prescription of a diuretic may be recommended to reduce the swelling. 

When to Seek Emergency Help

Seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Painful swelling of the feet or legs with fever
  • Signs of inflammation in the affected areas of the feet or legs
  • Persistent swelling of the feet during pregnancy
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of only one arm or leg

Key Takeaways

  • Swelling of the feet occurs because blood cannot flow properly.
  • Swollen feet can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, especially when it is accompanied by other symptoms. 
  • An impaired kidney function can cause sodium retention, which can lead to the swelling of the legs, ankles, or feet.