Do you often feel like your feet, ankles, or legs are swollen? If so, you’re not alone.
Many people experience swelling in these areas from time to time.
In some cases, it may be caused by a temporary condition such as pregnancy or standing for long periods of time.
However, there are also a number of more serious medical conditions that can cause swelling.
This article will discuss the seven most common causes of swollen feet, ankles, and legs.
But let’s first talk about what swelling actually is.
What is swelling?
Swelling, also known as edema, occurs when fluid accumulates in the tissues of your body.
You may notice that your skin appears stretched or shiny when you have swelling.
Swelling can affect any part of your body, but it is most common in the hands, feet, ankles, legs, and face.
In some cases, swelling may be painful or uncomfortable.
If you experience any pain or discomfort along with swelling, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Reasons why you have swollen feet, ankles or legs
One of the most common reasons women experience swollen feet and ankles is pregnancy.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, during pregnancy, the body produces 50% more blood and body fluids. (2)
This increase in the fluid can cause the tissues in your feet and ankles to swell.
The swelling is usually most noticeable in the third trimester and goes away after you give birth.
On the other hand, preeclampsia is a serious complication of pregnancy that can cause swelling.
Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine.
If you are pregnant and have swollen feet along with other symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision, or upper abdominal pain, you should see a doctor right away, as these could be signs of preeclampsia. (3)
How do you prevent swelling during pregnancy?
There are a few things you can do to minimize or prevent swelling during pregnancy.
First, try to avoid standing for long periods of time.
If you have to stand, take breaks often and prop your feet up when possible.
Second, wear comfortable shoes that provide support and don’t constrict your feet.
Third, avoid salt and eat a healthy diet.
Fourth, exercise regularly but don’t overdo it.
And lastly, drink plenty of water and other fluids.
If you are pregnant and concerned about swelling, talk to your doctor.
They can give you more specific tips on how to reduce the swelling.
2. Standing or sitting for long periods
If you have a job that requires you to stand or sit for long periods, you may be at risk for swollen feet and ankles.
When you stand or sit for extended periods, the gravity pulls the fluid in your body downward.
This can cause the blood vessels in your feet and ankles to expand and fill with more blood.
The extra blood and fluid in these areas can cause the tissues to swell.
To help reduce the risk of swelling, try to move around every 30 minutes.
If you’re sitting, prop your feet up on a stool or box.
And if you’re standing, shift your weight from one leg to the other and try not to stand in one spot for too long.
3. Eating salty foods
If you eat a lot of salty foods, you may notice that your feet and ankles swell.
This is because salt causes your body to hold on to extra water.
The extra water in your body can build up in the tissues of your feet and ankles and cause them to swell.
To help reduce swelling, cut back on the amount of salt you’re eating.
You can also eat foods that are high in potassium, such as bananas, to help offset the effects of salt.
Additionally, try to drink more water to help flush the salt out of your system.
Learn more: How much salt is safe to eat every day
Infection is another common cause of swollen feet and ankles.
The most common type of infection that causes swelling is cellulitis.
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that affects the skin and the tissue beneath it.
Cellulitis usually occurs on the legs or feet and can cause the area to swell, turn red, and feel warm.
If you think you may have cellulitis, see your doctor as soon as possible.
They will likely prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
5. Blood clot
Swollen ankles and legs are common symptoms of a blood clot.
A blood clot is a clump of blood that has solidified.
Blood clots can form in the veins or arteries and cause the area to swell. (5)
In addition to the swelling, you may also experience pain, redness, and warmth in the affected area.
If you think you have a blood clot, see your doctor immediately.
They will likely prescribe medication to help dissolve the clot and prevent it from getting larger.
Blood clots can be very dangerous and even life-threatening, so it’s important to get medical help right away.
6. Kidney disease
Kidney disease is another condition that can cause swollen feet and ankles.
Of course, kidney disease occurs when the kidneys are not able to filter out waste from the blood properly.
This can cause a build-up of fluid in the body, which can lead to swelling in the feet and ankles.
In the most serious situations, kidney disease can also cause kidney failure.
If you have kidney disease, you will likely need to see a doctor regularly to monitor your condition.
You may also need to take medication to help control the swelling.
7. Liver disease
If your kidneys aren’t functioning properly, it can cause a build-up of toxins in the body.
One of the most common symptoms of liver disease is swelling in the feet and ankles.
Other symptoms of liver disease include fatigue, weight loss, and yellowing skin.
If you think you may have liver disease, see your doctor as soon as possible.
They will likely order a blood test to check for liver damage.
If the liver is damaged, you may need to take medication or have surgery to correct the problem.
8. Heart failure
Heart failure is a condition that occurs when the heart is not able to pump blood properly.
This can cause fluid to accumulate in the body, causing swelling of your lower extremities.
Other symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain.
Contact your doctor if you think you may have heart failure.
They will likely do a physical exam and order some tests to confirm the diagnosis.
If you have heart failure, you will need to take medication and make lifestyle changes to help manage the condition.
9. Venous insufficiency
This is a condition in which your veins have trouble sending blood from your legs back up to your heart.
When this happens, blood can pool in your leg veins and cause swelling.
Venous insufficiency is usually caused by damaged valves in the veins. (6)
If you have venous insufficiency, you may notice that your legs feel heavy, tired, or achy.
You may also have cramping, itching, or burning sensations in your legs.
If you assume you may have venous insufficiency, talk to your doctor.
There are treatments available that can help improve the symptoms of this condition.
Lymphedema is a condition that causes your lymphatic system to become blocked, preventing it from draining properly.
A person with lymphedema may also have a feeling of heaviness or fullness in the affected area, as well as tightness of the skin.
Lymphedema can occur anywhere in your body but is most commonly seen in the arms or legs.
Can lymphedema swelling go away?
There are treatments available that can help reduce the swelling associated with lymphedema.
However, it is important to note that the condition itself is not curable.
With proper treatment, however, most people with lymphedema are able to manage their symptoms and enjoy a good quality of life.
One of the most common causes of swollen feet and ankles is obesity.
When you are overweight, there is more pressure on your joints and tissues.
This can cause inflammation and fluid build-up, leading to swelling.
If you are obese, talk to your doctor about ways to lose weight safely.
They may recommend a combination of diet, exercise, and medication.
Prevention of swollen feet, ankles, and legs
Here are some lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent swollen feet, ankles, and legs:
- Elevate your feet when you are sitting down.
- Wear comfortable shoes that fit properly.
- Exercise regularly to improve circulation.
- Don’t sit or stand for long periods of time without taking a break.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a healthy diet that is low in salt.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking.
To wrap it all up
Swollen feet, ankles, or legs can be caused by a variety of different conditions.
Some of the most common causes include pregnancy, obesity, infection, blood clots, and heart failure.
Treatment for swollen feet, ankles, or legs depends on the underlying cause.
In most cases, however, treatment involves elevating the affected area, wearing comfortable shoes, and exercising regularly.
Making lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet can also help prevent swollen feet, ankles, or legs.
If you are experiencing swelling in your feet, ankles, or legs, talk to your doctor to determine the cause and get started on a treatment plan.