Printer Logo

Foot, leg, and ankle swelling

Foot swelling
Lower leg edema

Definition

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.

Alternative Names

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

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:

Home Care

Some tips that may help:

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:

Call your doctor right away if:

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:

Diagnostic tests that may be done include the following:

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

Goldman L. Approach to the patient with possible cardiovascular disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 83.


Review Date: 4/21/2013
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, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.