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This Month In Health
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Health and Fitness News

Why the Swollen Feet?

Eight possible causes of swelling in your feet and ankles.

Ever notice that your feet or ankles look larger than usual? While most causes of swelling in the extremities are harmless, it can be cause for alarm. In some cases, abnormal swelling can be due to an underlying health condition.

Swelling happens when excess fluid builds up in your tissues. Known as peripheral edema, swelling most often affects the lower body, is most often seen in older adults, and can affect both sides of the body or just one. No matter where or when it is noticed, notify your doctor if you experience new swelling in the extremities.

So why are you swelling? Here are a few possible reasons.

1: A Sedentary Lifestyle

Whether you’re sitting, lying down, or standing for a long time, you’re more likely to develop swollen ankles when staying still. Moving muscles stimulate blood flow. When you’re inactive for long periods, circulation slows and blood has a more difficult time circulating back to the heart. As a result, a buildup of fluid (swelling) develops in the lower legs.

2: Weight Problems

When you’re overweight, your circulation slows down, and it becomes more difficult for your heart to efficiently pump blood. Blood that circulates to your feet may have a hard time making its way back to your heart. This causes fluid to pool in your legs, ankles, and feet.

3: Medication

Some drugs come with the negative side effect of water retention and swelling in the extremities. Swelling may be due to medications containing estrogen or testosterone, steroids or corticosteroids, antidepressants, blood pressure medications known as calcium channel blockers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and medications used to treat diabetes.

4: Pregnancy

Due to hormonal fluctuations, mild swelling in the feet and ankles is normal when you’re pregnant. Sudden, severe swelling, however, may indicate preeclampsia. This dangerous condition combines high blood pressure with headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and lack of urination.

5: Blood Clot

A blood clot in the leg can block blood flow and cause swelling. Superficial clots in the veins near the skin aren’t as dangerous as a clot deep in the leg. Known as deep vein thrombosis, these clots can block a major vein. If they break loose and reach the heart or lungs, the result can be fatal. Seek emergency care if you have leg swelling, pain, and fever, or your leg turns a different color.

6: Venous Insufficiency

Swollen ankles are an early sign of venous insufficiency. Valves in the veins keep blood moving in one direction. Weak or damaged valves can allow blood to leak back down through the veins and pool in the lower legs and feet. Venous insufficiency can also cause infection, skin ulcers, and changes in your skin.

7: Heart, Liver, or Kidney Disease

When the heart, liver, or kidneys aren’t functioning properly, it can lead to swelling in your extremities. A weak heart can’t pump blood effectively. Heart failure can lead to water and salt retention, which causes swelling—especially in the evening. Liver disease decreases production of albumin, a protein that prevents blood from leaking from vessels into body tissues. Kidney disease leads to excess sodium and fluid or low levels of albumin in your circulatory system, all which lead to swelling.

8: Lymphedema

Your lymphatic system carries fluid in the body. Lymphedema, or lymphatic obstruction, happens when there’s blockage in the lymphatic system, often due to the removal of lymph nodes. The result is swelling in the arms and legs. A buildup of lymph can lead to infection, slow wound healing, or deformity.

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