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Swelling is a common symptom that often resolves on its own with simple remedies such as ice and heat and rest. As such may be ignored by many people. One of the most common places people experience swelling is in the ankles. Many factors can lead to inflamed or swollen ankles, some more serious than others.

Varicose Veins

One of the leading causes of swelling in the ankles is damage to the veins in the legs that carry blood from the legs back to the heart. Veins have small flaps called valves that keep the blood moving toward the heart. Sometimes, these veins become damaged. When this happens, blood and fluid can collect in the lower leg and ankles. This leads to calf and ankle swelling, especially after sitting or standing for long periods. Wearing compression stockings and elevating the legs helps relieve ankle swelling from varicose veins. If the condition becomes too uncomfortable, treatments are available.

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Pregnancy

Most pregnant women will experience swelling in the ankles and feet at some point during their term. There are several reasons for this. Many people assume this happens due to weight gain, but while it may be a small factor, it is not the primary cause. During pregnancy, the body retains more fluids than usual, leading to water retention. Also, as the uterus grows, it can place pressure on the veins, which in turn, slows blood flow back to the heart. This can cause swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs. Many doctors recommend pregnant women keep their feet elevated when possible.

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Medications

Some drugs can cause the ankles to swell, though the side effect is not experienced by everyone who takes a certain medication. Common culprits include inflammatory drugs and steroids, as well as diabetes medications. Some hormone therapy, calcium channel blockers, and antidepressants may also cause swelling in the feet or ankles. People who experience this side effect from medication may choose to speak to their doctor about alternative treatment options.

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Blood Clots

Blood clots, blockages in the blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart, are another cause of swelling in the ankles. These blockages also allow fluid to leak out of the vessels, which can lead to swelling as the fluid moves into the tissues. Blood clots can have serious repercussions, so it is important to watch for any additional symptoms of this issue. People who experience swelling in one leg only, especially swelling associated with pain or cramping, should see a doctor immediately to rule out a blood clot.

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Injuries

Injuries to the ankle or foot often result in swelling. Sprains and fractures are the most common injuries to create ankle inflammation. The extent of the swelling does not always indicate the severity of the injury, however. Sometimes a simple twist can bruise and swell up like a balloon, while a severe fracture hardly swells at all. Injuries should always be examined by a doctor, especially since walking on it can worsen the situation.

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Infections

Any infection or inflammation of the ankle or surrounding areas can cause swelling. Infections can also result in heat emanating from the inflamed area and may cause a fever. These additional symptoms need immediate medical attention. Even minor infections can quickly escalate, and a doctor can prescribe medications to prevent the spread of the bacteria or virus and alleviate pain and swelling.

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Lymphedema

Another possible cause of swollen ankles is lymphedema. This condition can stem from any swelling or blockage in the lymphatic system, part of the circulatory and immune systems. Lymphedema usually develops following the removal of one or more lymph nodes, typically when the patient has cancer. It can also occur with infection, injury, or trauma to any part of the lymphatic system. There is no cure for the condition, which primarily affects the legs, arms, and ankles, but medications and wraps can treat the symptoms.

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Obesity

One of the most prominent causes of swelling in the ankles is obesity, due to the additional strain excess weight places on the legs, ankles, and feet. Large amounts of body fat, particularly around the tummy, place pressure on the veins that carry blood from the legs back toward the heart. This extra pressure hinders the blood's return to the heart. As a result, fluid builds up in the lower legs and ankles. People who are obese also may move around less. Movement of the muscles in the lower leg helps "push" blood and fluid back to the heart. Without muscle contractions, the fluid can pool in the ankles and cause ankle swelling. This also happens when people sit too long, especially on a hot day. Ankle swelling associated with obesity is usually mild and present in both ankles.

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Diseases

In the case of many diseases, swollen ankles may be one of the least problematic symptoms. However, swollen ankles can sometimes limit mobility, which makes reducing the swelling important. Kidney, heart, and liver disease can all cause fluid retention and fluid build-up that leads to swelling in the feet or ankles.

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Your Job

Depending on the type of job a person has, day-to-day work can be one of the most common and significant causes of swollen ankles. People who work jobs that require them to stand or walk much of the day can experience many problems with the legs, ankles, and feet, all of which may be exacerbated by poor footwear or bad ergonomic practices. Sitting or standing for long periods causes fluid to collect in the ankles due to the effects of gravity. In addition to a safe and healthy workspace, research suggests walking around and stretching for even a few minutes every hour can help alleviate this symptom.

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Diet and Sodium Intake

An overconsumption of sodium can result in fluid retention, causing swollen ankles. Excessive sodium disrupts the balance of fluids in the body, leading to the visible manifestation of swelling. Consequently, limiting sodium intake can help to alleviate this symptom.

Opting for a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and low-sodium foods can contribute to reducing water retention in the body.

Woman's hand picking up yellow potato chips inside a bag of snacks. Yannasakamon Thamjamrassri / Getty Images

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Hormonal Changes and Disorders

Hormonal imbalances during menstrual cycles, menopause, or disorders such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) can lead to fluid retention and subsequent ankle swelling. Hormones such as estrogen and progesterone have significant influence over the body's fluid balance.

Unregulated hormonal levels can lead to episodes of swelling. If hormonal imbalances are suspected, it's important to consult with a healthcare provider to discuss management strategies.

Hormonal woman trying to cool down Vladimir Vladimirov / Getty Images

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Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)

Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI) is a condition where the veins, especially in the lower limbs, struggle to efficiently return blood to the heart. This can result in swollen ankles. CVI can cause symptoms like aching, throbbing, and cramping in the legs.

Therefore, it is crucial to seek medical advice if CVI is suspected as the underlying cause of persistent ankle swelling.

woman with leg cramp MarianVejcik / Getty Image

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Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle factors, including excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, can exacerbate ankle swelling. Alcohol can lead to dehydration, causing the body to retain more water, resulting in swelling. Smoking, on the other hand, damages circulation, contributing to inflammation and swelling.

Cutting back on alcohol and quitting smoking are beneficial lifestyle changes that can help alleviate symptoms.

A woman smoking in a tavern LAW Ho Ming / Getty Images

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Underlying Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can lead to inflammation, often resulting in swollen ankles. The inflammation is a response to the body mistakenly attacking its own cells. If an autoimmune condition is present and ankle swelling is a recurrent issue, it's important to consult a healthcare provider about appropriate treatment options and symptom management strategies.

Patient Having a Check-Up FatCamera / Getty Images

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Peripheral Edema

Peripheral edema is characterized by abnormal accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the lower limbs, resulting in swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs. Often linked to poor circulation or lymphatic system issues, it can cause discomfort and mobility issues.

Various treatments, including medication, wearing compression stockings, and elevation of the limbs can help manage symptoms.

Woman sitting on bed putting on compression stockings on her legs JulieAlexK / Getty Images

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Prevention and Home Remedies

Preventing ankle swelling often involves lifestyle modifications, including maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise. Regular foot elevation during periods of rest can also help. Home remedies such as massages, compression stockings, and cold compresses can also prove beneficial, reducing inflammation and improving blood flow.

Overweight Woman Running in Park SeventyFour / Getty Images

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When to Seek Medical Help

Swelling that is sudden, painful, or accompanied by other severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, or fainting warrants immediate medical attention. Even with milder, but persistent swelling, it is advisable to seek medical evaluation to identify and treat any potential underlying health issues.

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Potential Complications

Prolonged untreated ankle swelling can lead to potential complications such as changes in skin texture and color, the development of skin ulcers, and an increased risk of infection. Persistent swelling can also lead to changes in gait and mobility.

Early intervention can help prevent long-term damage to the tissues surrounding the swollen area.

Hands of doctor or nurse examining the dry,cracked,swollen feet of old elderly people,skin care problems,senior woman with diabetes or kidney disease causing swollen legs,health care,medical concept Satjawat Boontanataweepol / Getty Images

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Influence of Aging

With advancing age, the risk of experiencing swollen ankles increases. This can be attributed to a reduction in physical activity, changes in the elasticity of blood vessels, or the onset of chronic diseases. Regular health check-ups, along with maintaining an active lifestyle and balanced diet, can mitigate these risks and promote overall well-being.

Elderly woman looking out of a window Andreas Selter / Getty Images

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.