Swollen Ankles and Swollen Feet (cont.)

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What causes swollen ankles and swollen feet?

Swollen ankles and swollen feet have numerous causes. Medically, the word swollen means protuberant or abnormally distended. Thus, if an ankle or foot is swollen, means it is increased in size. In most common situations, when the word swollen is used in reference to feet and ankles, the user implies the distention or size increase is due to an increase of fluid in the tissues (also termed edema). However, the broad definition includes any factors that increase ankle or foot size (for example increased fluids, increased inflammatory cells or both). Because the majority of factors that cause foot swelling also may cause ankle swelling, this article will discuss swelling as a general topic to cover both foot and ankle swelling. Some of the few exceptions where only foot or ankle swelling occur without both being involved will be presented. Swollen feet and ankles are usually a symptom or sign of some underlying problem, the majority of which are not a major cause for concern. However, in some instances, foot, ankle, and toes swelling may warn a person that an underlying problem needs immediate medical attention.

The causes of swollen feet and ankles are numerous; the following is a list of most of the major causes with some examples.

  • Dependent swelling (or edema): swelling due to standing or walking (usually over some time period that varies from person to person)
  • Pregnancy: the normal swelling that most pregnant women experience during pregnancy
  • Medications (side effects): Many medications have the side effect of fluid retention that manifests as swelling. Although the reader is advised to check their individual medications for side effects of swelling, general categories that may cause swelling include anti-inflammatory drugs (steroids and NSAIDs), hormones, medications for people with diabetes, antidepressants, and many calcium channel blockers (anti-hypertensive and cardiac medications).
  • Injury: any trauma to the foot or ankle (usually sprains or fractures) can result in swelling
  • Diseases: heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease (all of these diseases can influence fluid mobilization in the body by physical, metabolic and electrolyte-water interactions)
  • Infection: any infection, either localized (abscess) or diffuse (cellulitis)
  • Lymphedema: swelling due to lymph vessel or lymph node blockage of lymph fluid
  • Blood clot(s): blockage of blood vessels (usually venous) that cause fluid to leak out of vessels into tissue
Picture of pitted edema
Picture of pitted edema
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/15/2015

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