Swelling of the Ankles and Feet: Causes and Prevention

· September 10, 2014

Swelling in the ankles and feet is common, and usually no cause for alarm, especially if you have been standing or walking a lot.  But if your feet and ankles stay swollen for a long time, or are accompanied by other symptoms, this could be a sign of a serious health problem.  Here are a few of the reasons you may be suffering from swollen feet and ankles.

Complications with pregnancy

A little bit of swelling in the ankles and feet is normal during pregnancy.  However, sudden or excessive swelling could be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious condition whereby blood pressure and protein in the urine develop after the 20th week of pregnancy.  If you experience severe swelling, or swelling accompanied by other symptoms, like abdominal pain, headaches, reduced urine, nausea or vomiting, or changes in vision, call your doctor immediately.

Foot or ankle injuries

Injured feet


A foot or ankle injury can lead to swelling.  Sprained ankles are the most common, which occur when a lesion, or a wrong step makes the ligaments holding the ankle to stretch beyond their normal range.  To reduce swelling caused by a foot or ankle injury, you must rest to prevent walking with the injured ankle or foot.  Use ice packs, wrap the foot or ankle with a compression bandage, and raise the foot on a stool or pillow.  If the swelling and pain are severe, or if they don’t improve with in-home treatment, consult your doctor.


This is due to an accumulation of lymphatic liquid in the tissues, which could develop due to the absence of, or problems with the lymphatic system, or after removing lymph nodes.   A lymph is a liquid rich in proteins that normally travels throughout an extensive web of vessels and capilaries.  It is filtered through the lymph nodes that trap and destroy unwanted substances, like bacteria.

When there is a problem with the vessels or lymph nodes, fluid movement could be blocked.  If left untreated, the accumulation of lymph could alter the healing of wounds, and could cause infections and deformities.  Lymphedema is common after radiotherapy or lymph node removal in cancer patients.  If you have undergone cancer treatment and have experienced swelling, consult your doctor immediately.

Venous insufficiency

Foot injury

 Ankle and foot swelling is frequently an early symptom of venous insufficiency, a condition whereby the blood does not move upwards sufficiently from the veins in the legs and feet, to the heart.  Normally, the veins keep the blood that flows upwards with one-way valves.

When these valves become injured or weakened, the blood that is filtered downwards by the veins and fluids, is retained in the soft tissue of the lower extremities, especially the ankles and feet.  Chronic venous insufficiency could lead to changes in the skin, and skin ulcers and infections. If you experience signs of venous insufficiency, you should consult your doctor.


Swelling in the feet and ankles could be a sign of infection.  People with diabetic neuropathy or other problems with the nerves in the feet, are at a high risk of contracting infections in the feet.  If you have diabetes, it is important to inspect your feet daily to see if they have blisters and ulcers, because nerve damage could blunt the sensation of pain, and problems in the feet can progress quickly.  If you notice a swollen foot or a blister that seems to be infected, talk to your doctor immediately.

Blood clot

Blood clots that form in the veins in the feet can stop the return blood flow from the legs to the hear, and cause swelling in the ankles and feet.  Blood clots can be superficial (produced in the veins just below the skin), or deep (a condition known as deep vein thrombosis).

Deep blood clots can block one or more of the primary veins in the legs.  The clots can be potentially lethal if they break loose and travel to the heart and lungs.  If you have welling in a leg, along with pain, low grade fever, and possibly a change in the color of the affected leg, call your doctor immediately.  You may need treatment with anticoagulants.

Heart, liver, or kidney disease

Sometimes, swelling can indicate a problem with the heart, liver, or a kidney disease.  Ankles that swell at night could be a sign of salt and water retention, caused by right side heart failure.  Kidney disease could also cause swelling in the feet  and ankles.  When the kidneys do not function properly, liquid can accumulate in the body.  Liver disease can affect the production of a protein called albumin, which prevents blood from escaping from blood vessels to the surrounding tissue.

Insufficient production of albumin could lead to liquid loss.  This causes more liquid to accumulate in the feet and ankles, but the liquid could also accumulate in teh abdomen and chest.  If your swelling is accompanied by other symptoms, like fatigue, loss of appetite, weight gain, consult your doctor immediately.  If it is difficult or painful for you to breath, or you feel pressure or weight on your chest, call emergencies.

Side effects of medication

A lot of medications can cause swelling in the feet and ankles as a side effect.  If you suspect that the inflammation could be related to a medication you are taking, ,consult your doctor.  Although, due to the medication’s benefits, it could be worth it to withstand a bit of swelling.  If you have more severe inflammation, you might need to change the medication or the dosage.