For many people, they find that by the end of the day their feet and ankles look swollen, but there may be no pain with the swelling. However, the next morning the swelling is gone. This is called edema. Edema is the accumulation of fluid. There are many causes for extra fluid settling in the ankles and the feet. Some of these causes include:
- Venous Insufficiency: Inside all veins there are valves, which prevent the backflow of blood. However, in venous insufficiency, there is a problem with the valves; the blood that is trying to be pumped back to the heart keeps going backwards down the veins into the feet due to the force of gravity and the non-functioning valves in the veins. The two most common causes of venous insufficiency are varicose veins and blood clots. Blood clots are an emergency and you must seek medical attention immediately if you are concerned about having a clot.
- Heart and/or kidney failure: Similar to venous insufficiency, the blood and extra fluid may pool in the ankles and feet due to the heart being too weak to pump the blood back up into the heart against the forces of gravity. Swollen ankles and feet is especially a common symptom of congestive heart failure. Additionally if the kidneys are not filtering properly and protein is being leaked into the surrounding muscles and joints, water will follow, which will lead to accumulation of fluid in the feet and ankles.
- Pregnancy: Pregnant women commonly experience edema, because as the fetus develops the woman will need to supply the fetus with more blood and extra fluid in order to maintain a healthy pregnancy. This extra blood and fluid will accumulate in the feet and ankles. This is normal and after pregnancy, the edema should eventually disappear.
- Obesity: Extra weight causes there to be less room for the veins to travel throughout the body. Due to the extra space that extra body mass takes up, the veins become compressed and the flow through them back to the heart diminishes and leads to edema in the ankles and feet.
- Medications: Certain medications may cause the body to retain more fluid, for example steroids, hormonal therapies, and/or various medications taken by diabetics.
Due to these various causes of edema, it is important to discuss the edema with your healthcare provider, as it may be a clue to a more serious underlying problem. There are a few things that you can do to try to decrease the edema that accumulates throughout the day. Some of these include:
- Compression stockings, which are tight stockings. These stockings help to prevent the fluid from accumulating by pushing the fluid out of the feet and ankles and up into the leg to travel back to the heart.
- After a day of work, it is beneficial to put your feet up to help with the fluid draining back to the heart.
- Limit salt intake. Salt causes the body to retain fluid and exacerbates hypertension, so limiting your salt intake will help to decrease the hypertension as well as the decreasing the accumulation of fluid.
- Losing weight is beneficial to reduce ankle edema and obviously will improve your overall health. By losing weight, there will be more “room” for your vessels to run and the vessels will be less compressed, which allows blood and fluid to return to the heart easier.
- There are medications, which can help the body to get rid of the extra fluid, but it is always best to try other methods before trying a medication.