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 can cause swelling. This fluid buildup and swelling is called edema.
Painless swelling may affect both legs and may include the calves or even the thighs. The effect of gravity makes the swelling most noticeable in the lower part of your body.
Foot, leg, and ankle swelling is common when the person also:
Injury or surgery involving the leg, ankle, or foot can also 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, a serious condition that includes high blood pressure and significant swelling.
Certain medicines may also cause your legs to swell. Some of these are:
Some tips that may help reduce swelling:
Never stop taking any medicines you think may be causing swelling without first talking to your health care provider.
Call 911 or the local emergency number if:
Contact your provider right away if:
Also contact your provider if self-care measures do not help or swelling gets worse.
Your provider 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 provider will ask questions such as:
Diagnostic tests that may be done include:
Your treatment will focus on the cause of the swelling. Your provider may prescribe diuretics to reduce the swelling, but these can have side effects. Home treatment for leg swelling that is not related to a serious medical condition should be tried before drug therapy.
Magee DJ, Manske RC. Lower leg, ankle, and foot. Magee DJ, Manske RC, eds. Orthopedic Physical Assessment. 7th ed. St Louis MO: Elsevier; 2021:chap 13.
Quick CRG, Biers SM, Arulampalam THA. Pathophysiology, clinical features and diagnosis of vascular disease affecting the limbs. In: Quick CRG, Biers SM, Arulampalam THA, eds. Essential Surgery: Problems, Diagnosis and Management. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 40.
Seller RH, Symons AB. Swelling of the legs. In: Seller RH, Symons AB, eds. Differential Diagnosis of Common Complaints. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 31.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 6/20/2023
Reviewed By: Jacob Berman, MD, MPH, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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