Swollen Ankles and Swollen Feet (cont.)

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What are the symptoms of swollen ankles and swollen feet?

The symptoms of swollen feet and swollen ankles depend on the underlying causes mentioned above.

  • In general, swelling caused by dependent edema, pregnancy, medications, and most diseases produce swelling that is bilateral (present in both feet or ankles ) and usually begins as a soft, puffy skin enlargement in the feet that spreads rapidly (often within hours) to the ankles.
  • The skin is easily indented when pressed down with a finger and slowly returns to its more puffy state when the finger pressure is removed.
  • Indentions seen in the puffy skin when shoes or socks are removed are classic signs of swelling.
  • The skin color with this swelling is often normal or slightly pale; indentation marks are slightly darker than the surrounding swollen tissue.
  • Many individuals can simply position themselves on their backs, elevate their feet and ankles higher than their hearts, and after some time (often a few hours), the swelling may resolve completely. However, in some chronic diseases and with some medications taken for long time periods, the swelling becomes chronic and the skin becomes more rigid, reddish and sometimes mildly discolored or mottled and will not return to normal after a few hours of elevation. For example, many people with chronic congestive heart failure (CHF) will have chronic bilateral swelling of feet and ankles with skin changes.

Occasionally, specific medical problems will show additional or relatively unique symptoms, for example:

  • Symptoms of gout include swelling of the big toe with redness, warmth and pain, arthritis with swelling and joint pain, or electrolyte imbalance with low magnesium causing foot and leg cramps.
  • Sudden appearance of bilateral feet and ankle swelling during pregnancy (usually after 20 weeks) can be the first symptoms noticed in females with preeclampsia.
  • Unilateral swelling of the foot or ankle usually has the same symptoms described above if the underlying cause is unilateral lymphedema, venous insufficiency or blood clots. However, with blood clots there is often pain generated when the swollen area has pressure applied to the area. Venous insufficiency, when chronic, often has skin changes in color and texture as described above but may also develop skin ulcers or secondary infections.

Injury or infection of the ankle is usually unilateral, but can be bilateral. Injury or infection is often, in the early stages, limited to either the foot or the ankle, but may spread to each other. Swelling due to trauma usually is localized to the injured area (for example, ankle sprain or plantar fasciitis in the foot); in some instances, the swollen skin area may be damaged by abrasion, laceration, or bruised. Pain usually accompanies traumatic foot or ankle injury. Some infections of the foot or ankle may show localized swelling due to abscess formation (tight smooth skin, warm, and sometimes oozing pus) while other infections (cellulitis) show generalized swelling and warm skin, often with redness of the skin. Pain often is present where infection is located.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/10/2014