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Leg, foot and ankle swelling or edema occurs when excess fluid builds up in the body’s tissue. It is often caused by taking certain medications, pregnancy, vascular disorder or an underlying health condition.
Causes of Foot and Ankle Swelling
When you are on your feet for long periods, gravity pulls blood into the leg vein, separating some amount of water from the blood. Consequently, water (or fluids) can pass into your body’s tissues which leads to swollen legs and feet.
However, other medical conditions can cause swelling because they interrupt the movement of body fluids.
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One of the common causes of foot and ankle swelling is venous insufficiency. It is the malfunctioning of the leg’s vein valves and walls that cause the buildup of blood. These valves gradually deteriorate as we age, causing blood buildup and swelling.
This medical condition can cause:
- Wounds that are slow to heal
- Lipodermatosclerosis (hard or thick skin)
- Red, weepy or crusty skin
- Cramping or leg pain and
- Varicose veins
A Blood Clot in the Leg
Blood clots prevent the normal blood flow in your blood vessels such as the arteries and veins. Deep vein thrombosis or DVT is a blood clot that forms deep in your leg veins that leads to swelling and pain. It can also cause tenderness and skin redness.
Deep vein thrombosis occurs when fluid is forced to build up into the surrounding tissues due to the blood that is trapped in the leg veins. This buildup of pressure in the veins can cause swelling in the legs, ankles and feet.
DVT can break loose and travel to the lungs causing a serious health condition called pulmonary embolism. You should see your doctor immediately if you notice redness and swelling in your legs and feet. You will need medications that can help stop the blood clot from doing further damage.
Foot and leg swelling is often the result of a liver problem caused by the buildup of fluid in the abdomen and legs. Chronic liver diseases come with other symptoms such as:
- Pale-colored stools
- Redness on the hands, especially the palms
- Yellowing of the skin (Jaundice)
Certain liver diseases can cause low blood levels of albumin, a type of protein made in the liver. Low albumin blood levels allow excess fluid in the blood to pass into the tissues, causing swelling in certain parts of the body such as the legs and feet.
Similarly, fluid buildup in the tissues can make it hard for the kidneys to remove excess fluid in the body. Foot swelling can be a sign of liver and kidney disease as well as heart failure. Other symptoms include:
- Difficulty concentrating and
- Frequent urination
You need to see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. The doctor will look into your medical history and may order a thorough physical examination that often includes your heart and lungs. Also, you may be required to take blood tests, urine tests, an electrocardiogram, chest x-ray, etc.
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When there’s heart failure, one or both heart chambers can no longer pump blood effectively. It often results in leg, ankle or foot swelling due to the buildup of blood in the affected area.
Chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, coughing or wheezing are some of the symptoms that come with heart problems. Pericarditis, in particular, causes breathing difficulties as well as severe swelling to the legs, ankles and feet.
Feet and ankle swelling is not always caused by poor blood circulation or the buildup of fluid in the tissue. Changes in the body and certain medical conditions can also cause swelling in the leg, foot and ankle.
Bone and Tendon Conditions
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Many women experience swollen feet during pregnancy. The fetus in the uterus can compress the veins in the abdomen, which is the last stop of the blood’s journey before reaching the heart. Hormonal changes combined with such compression affect women’s vascular system during pregnancy.
Another pregnancy-related swelling occurs when the patient has dangerously high-blood pressure called Preeclampsia.
Skin and Toenail Problems
Our skin gets thinner and thinner as we age. This makes them more vulnerable to cuts and the risk of infection that often leads to swelling of the surrounding tissues near the wound.
Swelling can also be caused by a cut on the foot. Specifically, an ingrown toenail can dig deep into the skin, leading to painful swelling of the affected toe.
High Blood Pressure Medicines
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Some medications for treating high blood pressure such as calcium-channel blockers could also be the culprit.
Foot and ankle swelling could also be a side-effect of certain medications such as:
- Steroid drugs
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Thiazolidinediones and other diabetes medications
Lymphedema (Lymphatic obstruction)
Lymph nodes and blood vessels help transport blood and other fluids throughout the body. They also make up the lymphatic system. Blockage in the lymphatic system can cause the tissues in the arms and legs to swell due to fluid buildup.
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Your way of living can also contribute to swollen feet, which can be avoided with certain lifestyle changes. For instance, avoiding too much salty food can lower the likelihood of water retention, which may reduce swelling on the affected foot and ankle.
Also, excess body mass can affect normal blood circulation. Being overweight is another lifestyle factor that can cause fluid to build up in the leg, foot and ankle. Moreover, sitting or standing for long periods can also lead to swelling since the muscles are not actively pumping blood back to the heart.
When should I be concerned about swollen feet and ankles?
Seek emergency medical attention as soon as possible if you have unexplained swelling of your leg, foot or ankle. If it involves only one leg, it could be a symptom of a serious health condition.
How can I reduce the swelling in my feet and ankles?
There are a few things you can do at home to reduce the swelling of your foot and ankle. First, you can exercise your legs to promote the pumping of blood back into your heart. Next, lie down and raise your leg above your heart. Further, control your salt intake by following a low-salt diet.
Swollen Feet? Contact Adelaide Foot and Ankle
If you’ve been experiencing unexplainable foot and ankle swelling, contact us so we can identify the source of your discomfort and perform the necessary treatment. Persistent swelling depends on the cause. Edema can be treated with some lifestyle changes and regulating salt intake. Other causes of edema require the care and attention of a foot and ankle specialist.