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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.
There are many potential causes of foot, leg, and ankle swelling. In most cases, swelling occurs as a result of certain lifestyle factors, such as:
Foot, leg, and ankle swelling can also occur while taking particular medications, such as:
These 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:
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:
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:
You should go to the hospital immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms along with foot, leg, and ankle swelling:
During your appointment, your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask you about your symptoms. Be prepared to explain:
To help diagnose the cause of the swelling, your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:
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.
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 include:
Written by: Krista O'Connell and Erica Cirino
Published on: Apr 14, 2016
Medically reviewed on: Apr 14, 2016: George Krucik, MD
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