There are many causes for swollen feet which may be minor, temporary or small to notice. While swelling in the foot, leg, and ankle usually doesn’t pose a significant health risk, but it is important to consult your doctor. It usually goes away on its own, but sometimes it can be a sign of a health problem like low protein levels, heart failure, or kidney or liver disease. Even a swelling caused by less serious conditions may have very serious complications if left untreated. Foot, leg, and ankle swelling is also known as peripheral edema, which refers to an accumulation of fluid in these parts of the body. The buildup of fluid usually isn’t painful, unless it’s due to injury. Swelling is more common in the lower areas of the body because of gravity.
CausesIn most cases, swelling occurs as a result of certain lifestyle factors, such as:
- Overweight: Excess body mass can decrease blood circulation, causing fluid to build up in the feet, legs, and ankles.
- Standing or sitting for long periods: When the muscles are inactive, they can’t pump body fluids back up toward the heart. The retention of water and blood can cause swelling in the legs
- Natural hormonal changes: Fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone can cause reduced circulation in the legs, resulting in swelling. These changes in hormone levels may occur during pregnancy and a woman’s menstrual cycle.
- Foot, leg, and ankle swelling can also occur while taking particular medications, such as:
- estrogen or testosterone
- some antidepressants, including tricyclics and MAO inhibitors
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen and aspirin
Other Possible CausesThis part of foot, leg, and ankle swelling include certain medical conditions or body changes, such as
- Swelling occurs when your body holds on to too much water. It can make your feet puffy as well as your hands and face. You might notice it after a long travel or if you stand for hours at a time, and some women have it around their monthly period.
- During an injury or fracture the tough, flexible tissue that connects the bones around your ankle tears. Your foot and ankle will likely swell as blood rushes to the area to help heal it. A blood clot is a clump of blood that’s in a solid state. When a blood clot forms in a vein of the leg, it can impair blood flow, leading to swelling and discomfort.
- Feet can swell as a natural part of pregnancy because a woman’s body holds on to more water when she’s expecting. It can be worse at the end of the day or after standing for a long time. It’s not usually a sign of a problem for mother or baby, but it can be uncomfortable.
- While many pregnant women have swollen feet, if it happens along with a headache, nausea, trouble breathing, or belly pain, it could be a sign condition called Preeclampsia. It starts around 20 weeks into a pregnancy and is linked to high blood pressure. It can damage your liver or kidneys and can be serious if it’s not treated. Be sure to tell your doctor if you’ve had any of these symptoms.
- Lymphedema: This is when one or more of your lymph nodes (small glands that are part of your immune system) are damaged or removed, as often happens during cancer treatment. As a result, your body gets rid of less fluid, and that can lead to swelling in your arms, legs, and feet. One treatment for this is called pneumatic compression. You wear a sleeve over the affected areas, and the air is pumped into it every so often to put pressure there and help move fluid away. Exercises, massage, and compression sleeves or socks may help, too.
- Heart failure: This is when your heart doesn’t pump blood like it should. If your blood isn’t flowing well in the right direction, it can back up in your legs and feet and cause swelling. With heart failure, it can be uncomfortable to lie down flat, your heart may beat faster or in an unusual rhythm, and you might have a hard time catching your breath.
- Kidney disease: Your kidneys filter waste from your blood. If they aren’t working right because of a condition like diabetes or high blood pressure too much salt (sodium) can be left in your blood. That makes your body hold on to more water than it should. Gravity pulls the water down, and your feet and ankles can swell.
- Liver Cirrhosis: This refers to severe scarring of the liver, which is often caused by alcohol abuse or infection (hepatitis B or C). The condition can cause high blood pressure and poor circulation in the feet, legs, and ankles.
When to Call Your DoctorGet medical help right away if your feet are swollen and you’re short of breath or have chest pain. These could be signs of fluid or a blood clot in your lungs. See your doctor if:
- Your swollen foot keeps a dimple after you press it.
- Your skin in the swollen area looks stretched or breaks.
- You have pain and swelling that doesn’t go away.
Home RemediesThere are several treatments you can try at home if your feet, legs, and ankles regularly swell up. These remedies can help relieve swelling when it occurs:
- Compression socks: Available at your local drug or grocery store, compression socks provide pain relief and prevent fluid collection in your legs, ankles and feet. They come in light, medium and heavy weights, so be sure you select a pair that isn’t too tight for your body.
- Elevation: Elevate your legs whenever you’re lying down. The legs should be raised so they’re above your heart. You may want to place a pillow under your legs to make it more comfortable. Various yoga poses, such as lying on the floor with your legs raised and pressed against the wall, can also help.
- Exercise: Sitting or standing in one place for too long can increase swelling. Move your knees, and flex and extend your ankles for relief. Focus on stretching and moving the legs.
- Weight loss: Losing weight can reduce swelling, as well as improve your health overall.
- Epsom salt: Soak your feet and ankles for 15 to 20 minutes in a cool bath filled with Epsom salt to relieve swelling-associated pain. If you have diabetic neuropathy in your feet, check the water with your hands first to avoid exposing your feet to extreme temperatures.
- Magnesium supplements: It’s possible that adding 200 to 400 mg of magnesium to your daily diet can help limit your water retention and pain. Talk to your doctor before taking the supplement, though, as you shouldn’t use it if you have a kidney or heart condition.
- Reduce your salt intake, which can decrease the amount of fluid that may build up in your legs.
Prevention of Foot, Leg, and Ankle SwellingSwelling of the foot, leg, and ankle can’t always be prevented. However, there are some steps you can take to prevent it. Simple changes that help you reduce or avoid swelling:
- Avoid sitting or standing for a long time. Make sure you get up or move around periodically if you sit or stand still for prolonged periods.
- Drink eight to 10 glasses of water daily. Drinking less actually, promotes swelling.
- Exercise regularly to maintain good circulation. For adults ages 18 to 64, the World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week.
- Limit your salt intake.
- Little evidence exists to support using essential oils to reduce swelling. However, you can use peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and/or lavender and chamomile if you find them helpful.