St. Luke's Hospital
Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
Find a Physician Payment Options Locations & Directions
Follow us on: facebook twitter Mobile Email Page Email Page Print Page Print Page Increase Font Size Decrease Font Size Font Size
America's 50 Best Hospitals
Meet the Doctor
Spirit of Women
Community Health Needs Assessment
Home > Health Information

Multimedia Encyclopedia

    Print-Friendly
    Bookmarks

    Foot, leg, and ankle swelling

    Swelling of the ankles - feet - legs; Ankle swelling; Foot swelling; Leg swelling; Edema - peripheral; Peripheral edema

    Painless swelling of the feet and ankles is a common problem, especially among older people.

    Abnormal buildup of fluid in the ankles, feet, and legs is called edema.

    Considerations

    Painless swelling may affect both legs and may include the calves or even the thighs. Because of the effect of gravity, swelling is particularly noticeable in the lower part of the body.

    Causes

    Foot, leg, and ankle swelling is common with the following situations:

    • Being overweight
    • Blood clot in the leg
    • Increased age
    • Leg infection
    • Veins in the legs that cannot properly pump blood back to the heart

    Injury or surgery involving the leg, ankle, or foot can cause swelling. Swelling may also occur after pelvic surgery, especially for cancer.

    Long airplane flights or car rides, as well as standing for long periods of time, often lead to some swelling in the feet and ankles.

    Swelling may occur in women who take estrogen or during parts of the menstrual cycle. Most women have some swelling during pregnancy. More severe swelling during pregnancy may be a sign of preeclampsia (also called toxemia), a serious condition that includes high blood pressure and swelling.

    Swollen legs may be a sign of heart failure, kidney failure, or liver failure. In these conditions, there is too much fluid in the body.

    Certain medications may also cause your legs to swell:

    • Antidepressants, including MAO inhibitors (such as phenelzine and tranylcypromine) and tricyclics (such as nortriptyline, desipramine, and amitriptyline)
    • Blood pressure medicines called calcium channel blockers (such as nifedipine, amlodipine, diltiazem, felodipine, and verapamil)
    • Hormones like estrogen (in birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy) and testosterone
    • Steroids

    Home Care

    Some tips that may help:

    • Raise your legs above your heart while lying down.
    • Exercise your legs. This helps pump fluid from your legs back to your heart.
    • Follow a low-salt diet, which may reduce fluid buildup and swelling.
    • Wear support stockings (sold at most drug and medical supply stores).
    • When traveling, take breaks often to stand up and move around.
    • Avoid wearing tight clothing or garters around your thighs.
    • Lose weight if you need to.

    Never stop taking any medicines you think may be causing swelling without first talking to your doctor.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call 911 if:

    • You feel short of breath.
    • You have chest pain, especially if it feels like pressure or tightness.

    Call your doctor right away if:

    • You have heart disease or kidney disease and the swelling gets worse.
    • You have a history of liver disease and now have swelling in your legs or abdomen.
    • Your swollen foot or leg is red or warm to the touch.
    • You have a fever.
    • You are pregnant and have more than just mild swelling or have a sudden increase in swelling.

    Also call your doctor if self-care measures do not help or swelling gets worse.

    What to Expect at Your Office Visit

    Your doctor will take a medical history and do a thorough physical examination, paying special attention to your heart, lungs, abdomen, lymph nodes, legs, and feet.

    Your doctor will ask questions like the following:

    • What body parts swell? Your ankles, feet, legs? Above the knee or below?
    • Do you have swelling at all times or is it worse in the morning or evening?
    • What makes your swelling better?
    • What makes your swelling worse?
    • Does the swelling get better when you raise your legs?
    • What other symptoms do you have?

    Diagnostic tests that may be done include the following:

    • Blood tests such as a CBC or blood chemistry
    • Chest x-ray or extremity x-ray
    • ECG
    • Urinalysis

    The treatment will be aimed at the cause of the swelling. Diuretics may be prescribed to reduce the swelling, but they can have side effects. Home treatment for benign causes of leg swelling should be tried before drug therapy.

    References

    Fang JC, O'Gara PT. The physical examination: an evidence-based approach. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 12.

    Goldman L. Approach to the patient with possible cardiovascular disease. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 48.

    BACK TO TOP

    • Foot swelling

      illustration

    • Lower leg edema

      illustration

      • Foot swelling

        illustration

      • Lower leg edema

        illustration

      A Closer Look

      Self Care

      Tests for Foot, leg, and ankle swelling

      Review Date: 5/29/2011

      Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

      The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
      adam.com

      A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Fire Fox and chrome browser.


      Back  |  Top
      About Us
      Contact Us
      History
      Mission
      Locations & Directions
      Quality Reports
      Annual Reports
      Honors & Awards
      Community Health Needs
      Assessment

      Newsroom
      Services
      Brain & Spine
      Cancer
      Heart
      Maternity
      Orthopedics
      Pulmonary
      Sleep Medicine
      Urgent Care
      Women's Services
      All Services
      Patients & Visitors
      Locations & Directions
      Find a Physician
      Tour St. Luke's
      Patient & Visitor Information
      Contact Us
      Payment Options
      Financial Assistance
      Send a Card
      Mammogram Appointments
      Health Tools
      My Personal Health
      mystlukes
      Spirit of Women
      Health Information & Tools
      Clinical Trials
      Health Risk Assessments
      Employer Programs -
      Passport to Wellness

      Classes & Events
      Classes & Events
      Spirit of Women
      Donate & Volunteer
      Giving Opportunities
      Volunteer
      Physicians & Employees
      For Physicians
      Remote Access
      Medical Residency Information
      Pharmacy Residency Information
      Physician CPOE Training
      Careers
      Careers
      St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
      Copyright © St. Luke's Hospital Website Terms and Conditions  |  Privacy Policy  |  Patient Notice of Privacy Policies PDF Sitemap St. Luke's Mobile