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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 can cause swelling. This fluid buildup and swelling is called edema.

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Foot swelling
Lower leg edema

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Considerations

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 the body.

Causes

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 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 medicines may also cause your legs to swell. Some of these are:

Home Care

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.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 if:

Call your provider right away if:

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

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

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.

References

Goldman L. Approach to the patient with possible cardiovascular disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 51.

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.

Trayes KP, Studdiford JS, Pickle S, Tully AS. Edema: diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician. 2013;88(2):102-110. PMID: 23939641 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23939641.

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Review Date: 4/26/2019  

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, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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