Find out what causes swelling in legs and ankles


Know what leads to swelling in legs and ankles

The medical term for swelling fluid accumulates in tissues is edema. This happens when excess fluid accumulates in the tissues of your body, particularly the skin. Although swelling is more common in the legs and ankles, it may also be noticeable on the feet, arms, hands, and rarely on the face. There are various types and causes of edema. Most often, the causes are related to pregnancy, medications, and infections. However, certain other medical conditions can also cause swelling in legs and ankles.

What are the causes of edema?

Edema is caused by the following illnesses or medical conditions –

  • Low albumin

Albumin and certain proteins in the blood help keep fluid in your bloodstream so it does not leak into other tissues. Low levels of albumin – a condition commonly known as hypoalbuminemia – can cause edema.

  • Obstructed blood flow

Fluid in the body can back up due to a blockage or obstruction in the flow of blood. A blood clot in the deep veins in the leg may be a major cause of swelling and pain in the feet.

  • Congestive heart failure

Fluid can accumulate when the heart muscles weaken and are unable to pump blood effectively, causing edema. Rapid fluid build-up can affect your lungs. If you have congestive heart failure on the right portion of the heart, swelling may develop in the abdomen.

  • Liver disease

Serious liver ailments, such as cirrhosis can lead to fluid retention and hypoalbuminemia in the blood. The fluid may leak into your abdomen and eventually cause swelling in legs and ankles.

  • Kidney disorder

Certain kidney disorders, like nephrotic syndrome, may cause severe swelling and pain in the feet. In the worst cases, it may lead to swelling in the whole body. Other causes of edema may include –

  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Critical illnesses and infections
  • Head trauma
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Use of certain drugs and medications, like steroids, NSAIDs
  • Medications for high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Consuming too many salty foods

Different types of edema

The different types of edema are as follows –

  • Peripheral edema

This type of edema typically affects the lower body – legs, ankles, and feet. However, it may also cause swelling in the arms. This could be a sign of a problem in your kidneys, lymph nodes or the circulatory system.

  • Pedal edema

This occurs when fluid accumulates in your lower legs and feet. The condition is more common in pregnant and older people. Pedal edema can make it hard to move around typically because you may not have any sensation in your feet.

  • Lymphedema

This refers to swollen legs and hands, usually caused due to damage to the lymph nodes. The damage may result from aggressive cancer treatments, surgery or radiation. Cancer itself may block the lymph nodes and cause fluid to accumulate.

  • Pulmonary edema

You may have pulmonary edema if fluid gathers in the air sacs in your lungs. This often makes it difficult to breathe, especially when you lie down. A person with this condition may feel suffocated, experience rapid heartbeat, or cough up foamy spittle, occasionally with blood.

  • Cerebral edema

This is a serious condition, where fluid gathers in the brain. This usually occurs when you suffer a severe head injury or have a tumour or severe allergic reactions, or if a blood vessel bursts or gets blocked.

  • Macular edema

This occurs when fluid accumulates in the macula of your eye as a result of leakage caused due to damage in the blood vessels in your retina. Sometimes, edema can further be classified as pitting edema or non-pitting edema. If you gently press a swollen area and it causes a pit or indentation on the skin, it is referred to as pitting edema. The absence of an indentation is considered non-pitting edema. To understand the exact reasons for edema, be sure to consult a doctor and get yourself diagnosed. You can book an appointment with MediBuddy’s E-consultancy services and seek medical assistance.

How to manage edema

Apart from medications, certain self-care techniques may help manage or reduce swelling in legs and ankles. Here is what you can do to cope with this condition.

  • Get a moderate amount of exercise to prevent swelling
  • Avoid alcohol consumption and quit smoking
  • Wear compression socks
  • Eat a healthy diet that excludes salty, processed foods and includes leafy greens, whole grains and fruits
  • Look for alternative therapies, like acupuncture and massage
  • Maintain good hygiene to ensure that the affected area is moisturized, clean, and free from wounds or injuries

Long-term management of edema typically focuses on addressing the underlying cause of the swelling. If the condition results from the use of particular medication, your doctor may check for alternatives or adjust your prescription so that it does not cause further swelling. For more information, you can always talk to a doctor online on MediBuddy.