The medical term for swelling in the ankles, feet, or legs is edema. In most cases, the swelling is temporary because of short-term causes and clears up by itself. In some cases, ankle swelling is the result of a more serious underlying condition.
Cause of ankle swelling
Some common causes of a build-up of fluid in the ankles relate to your lifestyle:
- Excess weight.
- Restricted movement.
- Too much salt in your diet.
Normal ankle swelling in pregnancy results from the excess weight, being more sedentary, standing too much, and compromised blood flow. Some medications increase fluid retention and result in puffy ankles.
More severe ankle swelling may also result from
- Strains or sprains.
- Insect stings or bites.
- Vascular disease
Some forms of ankle swelling need immediate medical attention and may require medical intervention. Most people are aware of the difference between ankles becoming swollen because they have been on their feet all day and swelling dues to other causes.
Ankle Swelling Due to Vascular Disease
One potential cause of ankle swelling (accompanied by swelling of the feet and legs) is a venous condition like:
- Deep venous disease (DVD)
- Superficial venous insufficiency (SVI)
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Damaged veins result in complications and can lead to pooling of blood in the leg area owing to compression and obstruction of the veins. As well as swollen ankles, you may suffer from swollen feet, legs, changes in the skin, and ulcers.
If you suspect your swollen ankles are the result of vascular disease, infection, or lymphedema, you need to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Dealing with Vascular Disease
The first step in dealing with swollen ankles is to determine the cause of the swelling because there are many potential causes of edema in the lower leg.
Your doctor will begin with a conversation about the swelling, and this conversation will cover:
- Medical history - treatment for cancer, kidney disease, and other conditions can be a factor in the cause of your swollen ankles.
- Current medication.
- How the swelling behaves throughout the day.
- Good and bad responses to changes.
- Any other symptoms.
Increasing risk factors for vascular disease include:
- High Cholesterol
- Blood clotting problems.
- Standing for a long time.
- Sitting for a long time.
Your doctor will also physically examine the swollen ankles and the rest of your leg and may order some of the following diagnostic tests:
- Blood tests.
- Magnetic resonance imaging
Testing for vascular disease is noninvasive and uses duplex ultrasound techniques that combine traditional and Doppler ultrasound to give a picture of narrowing in the blood vessels and blood flow.
The treatment options depend on the cause of the swollen ankles.
Drug Free Treatment
Basic home treatment to alleviate swollen ankles include:
Taking the pressure off your ankles by resting your feet allows the fluid build up to disperse naturally. Even if you intend to visit a doctor, it makes sense to rest your ankles to help the swelling to go down.
Applying an ice compress for fifteen to twenty minutes is a standard treatment for sprains and injuries. You can repeat the process every three or four hours.
Applying compression to the lower leg encourages the blood or fluid flow upwards - support stockings are an option.
Raising the ankle above your heart by lying down and propping your legs at an angle on pillows allows gravity and blood flow to reduce the swelling.
Common Drugs to Treat Ankle Swelling
The most common drugs for ankle swelling are diuretics to prevent fluid retention through increasing urination. Increased urine also helps to remove excess salt from the body. There are three types of diuretic useful for treating symptoms associated with issues causing ankle swelling:
- Thiazide diuretics - relax the blood vessels.
- Loop diuretics - used in cases of heart failure.
- Potassium-sparing diuretics - keeps potassium in the body.
Painful swelling associated with injuries responds well to standard anti-inflammatory and pain relief medication available without a prescription.
Cholesterol medication and drugs to stop the formation of blood clots are also useful treatments that your doctor may recommend.
For a bacterial infection (like cellulitis), it is necessary to take a course of antibiotics.
If the ankle swelling results from an underlying medical condition, then effective management of the condition reduces the ankle swelling.
Lifestyle Changes to Decrease Symptoms of Ankle
By reversing the lifestyle changes that result in ankle swelling, you can improve your overall health and alleviate your swollen ankles.
Stop Smoking: Smoking causes damage to your blood vessels and can result in amputations as well as many other chronic diseases.
Lose weight: Excess weight puts pressure on your body and can increase ankle swelling. Reducing this weight helps reduce swelling.
Move more: Standing and sitting for hours promotes ankle swelling as fluid pools in your lower limbs. Walking and exercising help to promote better circulation.
Reduce Salt: Processed food contains a high level of salt; switching to a fresh, natural diet provides the nutrients your body needs and maintain health.
Support socks: If you have a job that needs you to stand and sit for a long time, consider helping your ankles with compression socks.
Manage your condition: If you have a medical condition that contributes to swollen ankles, then managing your condition will help your ankles.
Elevate when possible: Allowing the fluid to drain out of your ankle when sitting or lying down will help reduce swelling. Use a footstool or other supports to raise your legs as often as possible.
Foot exercises: There are exercises for your feet and ankles that promote better movement and better circulation.
In severe cases, there are surgical interventions to clear blockages and reinforce blood vessels. These generally involve the use of a catheter and some simple medical processes carried out with a local anesthetic.
Most ankle swelling can be relieved by lifestyle changes and some medication where necessary. In some cases, minimally invasive surgery is helpful.
Ankle swelling can be extremely serious, but the prognosis is excellent for reducing the swelling and improving your quality of life.
What to expect after treatment with CVM?
At the Center for Vascular Medicine, our mission is to help patients with their vascular diseases in a cost-effective and compassionate manner. We specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of venous and arterial diseases in the legs, feet, and pelvis. Our world-class providers are the most experienced in the specialty and work with patients to develop a treatment plan that is custom tailored to their unique situation.
Typically, this process involves an initial consultation and ultrasound scan at one of our accredited facilities. After reviewing the results of your scan and obtaining a thorough medical history, our providers will discuss the results with you and help you decide on next steps.
Our health care providers use several diagnostic tests to help determine what vascular diseases may be causing your symptoms. Our initial evaluations utilize ultrasound because this non-invasive imaging modality helps us verify our suspicions on whether your symptoms are caused by underlying vascular disease.
Leg Swelling - Before Leg Swelling - After Treatment
Latest research on treating ankle swelling