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Foot care health centre

Swollen ankles and feet

Swollen ankles and swollen feet are common and usually not cause for concern, particularly if you have been standing or walking a lot. However, feet and ankles that stay swollen or are accompanied by other symptoms could signal a serious health problem. We look at some possible causes of foot and ankle swelling and offer advice on when to seek medical advice.

Pregnancy complications

Some swelling of the ankles and feet is normal during pregnancy. Sudden or excessive swelling, however, may be a sign of pre-eclampsia, a serious condition in which high blood pressure and protein in the urine develop after the 20th week of pregnancy. If you experience severe swelling or swelling accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain, headaches, infrequent urination, nausea and vomiting, or vision changes, seek medical advice immediately.

Foot or ankle injury

An injury to the foot or ankle can lead to swelling. The most common is a sprained ankle, which occurs when an injury or misstep causes the ligaments that hold the ankle in place to be stretched beyond their normal range. To reduce the swelling from a foot or ankle injury, rest to avoid walking on the injured ankle or foot. 

Use an ice pack wrapped in a towel (don’t use in direct contact with the skin) for up to 20 minutes, reapply if necessary after a 20 minute break

Wrap the foot or ankle with a compression bandage and elevate the foot on a stool or pillow. If swelling and pain is severe or doesn't improve with home treatment, seek medical advice.

Lymphoedema

This is a collection of lymphatic fluid in the tissues that can develop because of the absence of or problems with the lymph vessels or after the removal of lymph nodes. Lymph is a protein-rich fluid that normally travels along an extensive network of vessels and capillaries. It is filtered through the lymph nodes, which trap and destroy unwanted substances such as bacteria. When there is a problem with the vessels or lymph nodes, however, the fluid's movement can be blocked. Untreated, lymph build-up can impair wound healing and lead to infection and deformity. Lymphoedema is common following radiotherapy or removal of the lymph nodes in patients with cancer. If you have undergone cancer treatment and experience swelling, seek medical advice.

Venous insufficiency

Swelling of the ankles and feet is often an early symptom of venous insufficiency, a condition in which blood inadequately moves up the veins from the legs and feet back to the heart. Normally, the veins keep blood flowing in the correct direction with the help of one-way valves. When these valves become damaged or weakened, the blood leaks back through the vessels and fluid leaks out into the soft tissue of the lower legs, especially the ankles and feet. Chronic venous insufficiency can lead to skin changes, skin ulcers and infection. If you experience signs of venous insufficiency you should seek medical advice.

WebMD Medical Reference

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