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
often more apparent in the lower areas of the body because of gravity.
Foot, leg, and ankle swelling is most common in older adults.
The swelling can occur on both sides of the body or on just one side. One or
more areas in the lower body may be affected.
While swelling in the foot, leg, and ankle usually doesn’t
pose a significant health risk, it’s important to know when to see a doctor. Swelling
may sometimes indicate a more serious underlying health issue that needs to be
treated right away.
causes of foot, leg, and ankle swelling
There are many potential causes of foot, leg, and ankle
swelling. In most cases, swelling occurs as a result of certain lifestyle factors,
overweight: Excess body mass can decrease blood circulation, causing fluid to
build up in the feet, legs, and ankles.
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.
leg, and ankle swelling can also occur while taking particular medications,
types of medications can reduce blood circulation by increasing the thickness
of the blood, causing swelling in the legs. Make sure to talk to your doctor if
you suspect that your medication is causing swelling in your lower extremities.
Don’t stop taking your medication until you speak with your doctor.
Other possible causes for foot, leg, and ankle swelling
include certain medical conditions or body changes, such as:
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.
clot in the leg: 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
or infection: An injury or infection affecting the foot, leg, or ankle results
in increased blood flow to the area. This presents as swelling.
- Venous insufficiency:
This condition occurs when the veins are unable to pump blood adequately,
causing blood to pool in the legs.
- Pericarditis: This
is a long-term inflammation of the pericardium, which is the sac-like membrane
around the heart. The condition causes breathing difficulties and severe,
chronic swelling in the legs and ankles.
- Lymphedema: Also known as lymphatic
obstruction, lymphedema causes blockages in the lymphatic system. This system
is made up of lymph nodes and blood vessels that help carry fluid throughout
the body. A blockage in the lymphatic system causes tissues to become swollen
with fluid, resulting in swelling in the arms and legs.
- Preeclampsia: This condition causes high blood pressure during
pregnancy. The increase in blood pressure can result in poor circulation and
swelling in the face, hands, and legs.
- 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.
foot, leg, and ankle swelling at home
There 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:
- 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.
active and focus on stretching and moving the legs.
your salt intake, which can decrease the amount of fluid that may build up in
wearing garters and other types of restrictive clothing around your thighs.
a healthy body weight.
support stockings or compression socks.
- Stand up or move around at least once every
hour, especially if you’re sitting or standing still for long periods of time.
to see a doctor about foot, leg, and ankle swelling
While swelling in the lower extremities usually isn’t cause
for concern, it can sometimes be a sign of something more serious. Here are
some general guidelines that can help you identify when swelling warrants a
trip to the doctor or to the emergency room.
You should schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon
as possible if:
have heart or kidney disease and are experiencing swelling
have liver disease and are experiencing swelling in your legs
swollen areas are red and feel warm to the touch
body temperature is higher than normal
are pregnant and are experiencing sudden or severe swelling
have tried home remedies, but they haven’t been successful
swelling is getting worse
You should go to the hospital immediately if you experience
any of the following symptoms along with foot, leg, and ankle swelling:
pressure, or tightness in the chest area
lightheaded or faint
breathing or shortness of breath
to expect during your appointment
During your appointment, your doctor will perform a physical
examination and ask you about your symptoms. Be prepared to explain:
you are noticing the swelling
times of day when the swelling tends to be worse
other symptoms you may be experiencing
factors that appear to make the swelling better or worse
To help diagnose the cause of the swelling, your doctor may
order one or more of the following tests:
tests including blood count, kidney and liver function studies, and
electrolytes to evaluate the various organs
- X-rays to view the bones and other
- ultrasound to examine the organs, blood
vessels, and tissues
- electrocardiogram to assess heart function
If your swelling is related to a lifestyle habit or a minor
injury, your doctor will likely recommend home treatments. If your swelling is
the result of an underlying health condition, your doctor will first attempt to
treat that specific condition. Swelling may be reduced with prescription
medications, such as diuretics. However, these medicines can cause side
effects, and are usually used only if home remedies aren’t working.
foot, leg, and ankle swelling
Swelling of the foot, leg, and ankle can’t always be prevented.
However, there are some steps you can take to prevent it. Some good strategies
- 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.
- Avoid sitting or standing for a long time. Make
sure you get up or move around periodically if you sit or stand still for
- Regulate your salt intake. The Mayo
Clinic recommends that adults up to age 51 consume no more than 2,300
milligrams of salt per day. Adults over age 51 and those with certain health
conditions should keep their salt intake below 1,500 mg per day.
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Written by: Krista O'Connell and Erica Cirino
on: Apr 14, 2016: George Krucik, MD
This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.