Swollen Ankles and Legs

Swollen legs, ankles and feet are common and are usually the outcome of fluid retention or edema. You will notice the skin about the swollen area is stretched. To confirm you have water retention in legs, ankles or feet, your doctor will gently press a finger over your foot to see if you have an indentation. In most cases, you don't have to worry too much about swelling in these parts, but it is a good idea to talk to your doctor to ensure that your swollen ankles and legs aren't caused by diseases of lungs, heart, kidney or liver. Keep reading to learn more about it.

What Causes Swollen Ankles and Legs?

You may notice swelling in your legs and ankles due to many different reasons. Here are some of the most common causes that lead to swollen ankles and legs.

1.  Pregnancy

It is normal to have swollen ankles and legs during pregnancy. You may need to see your doctor if you experience excessive swelling that develops suddenly because this could be due to a condition called pre-eclampsia. You may also notice other symptoms such as headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, infrequent urination, vomiting and vision change at the same time.

2.  Injury

An injury to your legs or ankles may lead to swelling. Sprained ankles are common in athletes and are caused by an injury to the ligaments in your ankle. Take plenty of rest, avoid walking, and use an ice pack to reduce swelling caused by an injury.

3.  Lymphoedema

You may notice lymphatic fluid accumulating in the tissues after the removal of lymph nodes or due to any problems with the lymph vessels. The condition is called lymphoedema. Lymph, a protein-rich fluid, travels through a huge network of capillaries and vessels. The lymph nodes filter the fluid and eliminate any unwanted substances such as bacteria. Any problem with the lymph nodes or vessels will lead to a blockage that will restrict the movement of the fluid. This condition will impair wound healing and may even lead to deformity. Most people experience this condition after the removal of the lymph nodes or radiotherapy.

4.  Venous Insufficiency

Swollen ankles and legs may indicate a condition called venous insufficiency in which blood starts moving up the veins in your legs to your heart. The veins use one-way valves to ensure the blood moves in the right direction only, but any damage to these valves may fail to prevent the blood from leaking back through the vessels. Fluid may also leak out into the soft tissue in your ankles or lower legs, causing severe swelling in most cases. Chronic venous insufficiency will eventually cause your skin to change its color – you may also have to deal with infections and skin ulcers.

5.  Infection

Infections can also cause swelling in your feet and legs. It is more common in people with diabetic neuropathy or other types of nerve problems. If you're diabetic, you should inspect your legs and feet for sores and blisters because nerve damage may block pain sensation. Seek immediate medical assistance when you notice swelling or blisters on your ankles, legs or feet.

6.  Blood Clot

Blood clots can restrict the return blood flow to your heart, which will cause swelling in the ankles and legs. You may have superficial blood clots that occur in the veins or deep clots that block your major veins of the legs. Deep clots may prove fatal when they break loose and travel to your lungs or heart. If you notice swelling in only one leg with pain, fever, and a change in skin color, this could be due to a blood clot.

7.  Heart, Liver or Kidney Diseases

Swollen ankles and legs may indicate a problem such as liver, heart or kidney disease. Fluid will build up in your body when your kidneys aren't functioning properly. Liver disease will affect the production of albumin, a protein that keeps blood from leaking out into the tissues. Gravity makes this fluid to buildup in your ankles and legs, but sometimes, you may have fluid in the abdomen and chest as well.

8.  Medication

Some medications can also cause swelling in the feet and legs, such as calcium channel blockers, diabetes medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and hormones such as testosterone. Anabolic and androgenic steroids can lead to swollen ankles and legs. Antidepressants such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants can also cause swelling as a possible side effect.

9.  Other Causes

Sometimes, you experience swelling in your ankles and legs because you're overweight, taking blood pressure medications, and using MAO inhibitors. Standing for extended period or being confined for prolonged periods may also cause swelling in your legs and ankles.

How to Diagnose the Causes of Swollen Ankles and Legs

Since there can be many different reasons behind swollen ankles and legs, it is often quite confusing to pinpoint what's causing problem in your case. Go and see your doctor for further analysis and to determine the underlying cause of swollen ankles and legs. Your doctor will examine your legs and ankles and ask you about any other symptoms. They will also ask question about when the swelling becomes worse, what other symptoms are present, and what factors make your swelling get better or worse.

For confirmation, they may also order x-rays, blood tests, urine tests and an ECG to check your heart function. It is important to treat the underlying condition to be able to clear swelling in your legs. In some cases, making some lifestyle changes, like reducing sodium intake, will help resolve the issue greatly.

How to Deal With the Swollen Ankles and Legs at Home

Here are few tips and self-care measures that will help prevent and manage swelling in ankles and legs.

  • Limit your salt intake because salt retains water in your body, making your swelling worse.
  • Don't drink more than 13 cups of water daily because too much fluid with a relatively higher sodium-intake will lead to water retention. You may even have to reduce the amount of fluid you normally drink while you're treating your swollen ankles and legs.
  • Keep your legs elevated to help keep water in the blood. Just make sure elevating your legs doesn't aggravate your swelling.
  • Don't lie on your back during pregnancy because this will make the baby to press on the veins in your legs that will make it difficult for water to return to the heart.
  • Make use of compression stockings to reduce leg and ankle swelling.
  • You may consider taking diuretic pills to ensure your kidneys manage to eliminate extra water. 
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