Swelling of the Legs, Ankles and Feet

Swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet — also known by its medical term “edema” — is a condition that develops as a result of having too much fluid buildup in your body tissue. While it’s usually considered a normal response to some type of injury or inflammation, there are many reasons why you can develop swelling in these particular areas of the body — and even weather (warmer months, especially) can make the condition worse.

Below are some other reasons why you might develop swelling, as well as some tips on what you can do to both prevent and relieve it.

* Injuries: As mentioned, injuries are commonly associated with swelling of certain parts of the body. For example, if you were to twist your ankle, it wouldn’t be uncommon for your ankle to not only be painful, but also become swollen as a result. Swelling develops as a result of an injury due to your ligaments becoming stretched beyond what is their normal range. In order to reduce swelling from an injury like a sprained ankle, it is recommended that you rest and avoid walking, keep the ankle elevated, and apply ice to the affected area. In addition, wrapping your foot or ankle with a compression bandage can also be helpful. If you are experiencing significant pain, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen can be helpful, and may also help reduce inflammation caused by the injury. If you’re not noticing any improvement by trying these remedies, it’s important to let your physician know as your injury could potentially be worse than a sprain — for example, a broken bone, and you may require medical imaging tests such as an X-ray or CT scan to rule that out.

* Blood clots: When you develop a blood clot in the veins of your legs, this means that blood cannot properly flow to your heart — which can not only be life-threatening, but can also cause your ankles, feet and legs to swell and even become painful. Commonly, blood clots can turn into a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (also known as DVT), and you may require treatment with blood thinners. Along with swelling and pain, other signs of a blood clot include a possible change in the colour of your leg (i.e. reddish or purple), and a low-grade fever. Due to blood clots being potentially life-threatening, it’s important you seek medical attention upon the first sign of symptoms.

* Infection: Swelling can develop as a result of a foot infection, and those with certain nerve problems or a condition known as diabetic neuropathy are at an increased risk of developing foot infections, so always watch for things like blisters and sores. If you do develop a foot infection, you will likely require antibiotic treatment, as without treatment the infection could worsen.

* Heart disease, liver disease and kidney disease: The aforementioned disease are all known to cause swelling. For example, if you have heart disease or heart failure then your body also retains salt and water, which can contribute to swelling of the ankles. When you have kidney disease, this means that your kidneys are not functioning properly and are therefore causing you to develop a buildup of fluid in the body, which also causes swelling. With liver disease, your production of the protein known as albumin — which prevents blood from leaking out of the blood vessels and into surrounding tissue — is affected. Without adequate production of albumin, fluid will accumulate.

* Pregnancy: Swelling of the feet and ankles (and even the hands and face) is normal in women who are pregnant due to an increase in blood and fluid. In attempt to try and decrease swelling during pregnancy, healthcare professionals recommend eating foods that are high in potassium (such as bananas), avoiding spending time outdoors (especially in hot weather), avoiding standing for prolonged periods of time, decrease your intake of sodium and increase your intake of water, and keep your feet elevated whenever possible.

Originally published at http://alighahary.ca on July 23, 2019.



Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. http://www.alighahary.ca

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