Are your feet so swollen that it’s hard to put on a pair of shoes? Swollen feet and ankles are a common problem that most people experience at one time or other for a variety of reasons – most of which aren’t serious. But, not infrequently, swelling of feet and ankles can be a sign of more serious health problems. What causes swollen feet and ankles?
The Most Common Causes of Foot and Ankle Swelling
Foot and ankle swelling is more common in the warm summer months – particularly if you sit or stand for a prolonged period of time. If you’ve ever taken a long car or plane ride where you couldn’t get up and move around, you may have developed foot and ankle swelling. The swelling probably resolved once you got up and walked awhile.
Why does this happen? There’s a simple explanation. The effects of gravity cause fluid to pool in the lower legs when you stand or sit too long. This is more of a problem in women due to hormones and varicose veins. Being older, overweight, pregnant, or eating too much salt makes the problem worse.
Medications Can Cause Swollen Feet and Ankles
A variety of medications can cause foot and ankle swelling including some blood pressure medications, birth control pills, antidepressants, testosterone, and oral steroids. If you experience swollen feet and ankles after starting a new medication, check with your doctor to see if it could be contributing to the problem.
More Serious Causes of Foot and Ankle Swelling
A variety of more serious health problems can cause swollen feet and ankles including kidney disease, liver disease, heart failure, chronic lung disease, and malnutrition. Swollen ankles that also include leg swelling can be caused by obstruction of the lymph nodes in the legs from an infection or an undiagnosed malignancy.
If only one leg or ankle is swollen – beware. This may be a sign of a blood clot, a condition called deep venous thrombosis (DVT). If this isn’t diagnosed and treated promptly, the clot can break away and travel to the lungs where it can be fatal. A DVT usually, but not always, causes leg pain, especially when you flex your foot.
Foot and Ankle Swelling: The Bottom Line?
When foot and ankle swelling lasts longer than twenty-four hours, is painful, or involves only one leg, it’s important to get prompt medical attention. Otherwise, move around more, elevate your legs, and stay cool. If it doesn’t resolve after doing this, see your doctor for blood tests and a full examination.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.