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Foot, leg, and ankle swelling—also known as peripheral edema—refers to an accumulation of fluid in these parts of the body. The buildup of fluid is not usually painful, unless it is due to injury. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, swelling is often more apparent in the lower area of the body because of gravity. (UMMC)
Older people frequently experience this type of swelling. While it usually does not pose a significant health risk, it is important to know when to see a doctor since swelling may indicate a more serious underlying health issue.
There are many potential causes of foot, leg, and ankle swelling. They include certain lifestyle conditions or medications, such as:
Other medical conditions or changes in your body can also cause your legs, feet, and ankles to swell. These include:
There are several measures you can try at home if your feet, legs, and ankles regularly swell up. These can help relieve swelling when it occurs and possibly help to prevent it.
You should try to elevate your legs whenever you are lying down, to a position above your heart. You may want to place a pillow under your legs to make it more comfortable.
You can also:
While swelling in the lower extremities can simply be the result of standing for too long, it can also be a sign of something more serious. The following information provides some general guidelines about when swelling should be considered a medical emergency, and when it warrants a trip to your doctor.
If you experience any of the following symptoms along with foot, leg, and ankle swelling, you should go to the nearest emergency room right away:
Doctor’s Office Visit
If any of the following describe your situation, you should schedule an appointment with your family doctor as soon as possible:
During your visit, the doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask you about your symptoms. You should be prepared to explain:
To help diagnose the cause of the swelling, your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:
If a health condition is determined to be cause of your swelling, your doctor will first attempt to treat that underlying condition. If the cause of your swelling is non-serious or lifestyle-related, your doctor may recommend some of the lifestyle changes mentioned above. He or she may also probably advise you to reduce your sodium intake.
According to the National Institutes of Health, in some cases, doctors will prescribe diuretics to help reduce swelling. However, these medicines have side effects, and are usually used only if home remedies are not working. (NIH)
Written by: Krista O'Connell
Updated on Feb 15, 2013
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
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