Swelling is a common symptom that often resolves on its own with simple remedies such as ice and heat and rest. As such may be ignored by many people. One of the most common places people experience swelling is in the ankles. Many factors can lead to inflamed or swollen ankles, some more serious than others.
One of the leading causes of swelling in the ankles is damage to the veins in the legs that carry blood from the legs back to the heart. Veins have small flaps called valves that keep the blood moving toward the heart. Sometimes, these veins become damaged. When this happens, blood and fluid can collect in the lower leg and ankles. This leads to calf and ankle swelling, especially after sitting or standing for long periods. Wearing compression stockings and elevating the legs helps relieve ankle swelling from varicose veins. If the condition becomes too uncomfortable, treatments are available.
Most pregnant women will experience swelling in the ankles and feet at some point during their term. There are several reasons for this. Many people assume this happens due to weight gain, but while it may be a small factor, it is not the primary cause. During pregnancy, the body retains more fluids than usual, leading to water retention. Also, as the uterus grows, it can place pressure on the veins, which in turn, slows blood flow back to the heart. This can cause swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs. Many doctors recommend pregnant women keep their feet elevated when possible.
Some drugs can cause the ankles to swell, though the side effect is not experienced by everyone who takes a certain medication. Common culprits include inflammatory drugs and steroids, as well as diabetes medications. Some hormone therapy, calcium channel blockers, and antidepressants may also cause swelling in the feet or ankles. People who experience this side effect from medication may choose to speak to their doctor about alternative treatment options.
Blood clots, blockages in the blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart, are another cause of swelling in the ankles. These blockages also allow fluid to leak out of the vessels, which can lead to swelling as the fluid moves into the tissues. Blood clots can have serious repercussions, so it is important to watch for any additional symptoms of this issue. People who experience swelling in one leg only, especially swelling associated with pain or cramping, should see a doctor immediately to rule out a blood clot.
Injuries to the ankle or foot often result in swelling. Sprains and fractures are the most common injuries to create ankle inflammation. The extent of the swelling does not always indicate the severity of the injury, however. Sometimes a simple twist can bruise and swell up like a balloon, while a severe fracture hardly swells at all. Injuries should always be examined by a doctor, especially since walking on it can worsen the situation.
Any infection or inflammation of the ankle or surrounding areas can cause swelling. Infections can also result in heat emanating from the inflamed area and may cause a fever. These additional symptoms need immediate medical attention. Even minor infections can quickly escalate, and a doctor can prescribe medications to prevent the spread of the bacteria or virus and alleviate pain and swelling.
Another possible cause of swollen ankles is lymphedema. This condition can stem from any swelling or blockage in the lymphatic system, part of the circulatory and immune systems. Lymphedema usually develops following the removal of one or more lymph nodes, typically when the patient has cancer. It can also occur with infection, injury, or trauma to any part of the lymphatic system. There is no cure for the condition, which primarily affects the legs, arms, and ankles, but medications and wraps can treat the symptoms.
One of the most prominent causes of swelling in the ankles is obesity, due to the additional strain excess weight places on the legs, ankles, and feet. Large amounts of body fat, particularly around the tummy, place pressure on the veins that carry blood from the legs back toward the heart. This extra pressure hinders the blood’s return to the heart. As a result, fluid builds up in the lower legs and ankles. People who are obese also may move around less. Movement of the muscles in the lower leg helps “push” blood and fluid back to the heart. Without muscle contractions, the fluid can pool in the ankles and cause ankle swelling. This also happens when people sit too long, especially on a hot day. Ankle swelling associated with obesity is usually mild and present in both ankles.
In the case of many diseases, swollen ankles may be one of the least problematic symptoms. However, swollen ankles can sometimes limit mobility, which makes reducing the swelling important. Kidney, heart, and liver disease can all cause fluid retention and fluid build-up that leads to swelling in the feet or ankles.
Depending on the type of job a person has, day-to-day work can be one of the most common and significant causes of swollen ankles. People who work jobs that require them to stand or walk much of the day can experience many problems with the legs, ankles, and feet, all of which may be exacerbated by poor footwear or bad ergonomic practices. Sitting or standing for long periods causes fluid to collect in the ankles due to the effects of gravity. In addition to a safe and healthy workspace, research suggests walking around and stretching for even a few minutes every hour can help alleviate this symptom.