The Main Causes of Swelling in The Feet and Ankles

The Main Causes of Swelling in The Feet and Ankles

Last update: 18 March, 2015

Swelling in both the feet and ankles is highly common, especially if you have been standing or walking for long periods of time. However, if your feet and ankles are swollen for lengthy periods and this is accompanied by other symptoms, then this may be cause for concern and a sign of something more serious. There are a few reasons you may be suffering from swollen feet and ankles.

Swelling and pregnancy complications

Some slight swelling in the feet and ankles is perfectly normal during pregnancy but a sudden or excessive swelling may be a symptom of preeclampsia . You should consult a doctor immediately if you experience severe swelling, nausea or vomiting, reduced urine and/or changes in vision.

Injuries to the foot or ankle


Injuring your foot or ankle can lead to swelling. Sprained ankles are highly common and this occurs when the ligaments that hold the bones in the ankle area together are stretched beyond their normal range. To reduce swelling in the ankle or foot you must rest and avoid walking while you are injured. An ice pack, compression bandage wrapped around the foot or ankle and raising the foot on a pillow can help. You should consult a doctor if the pain becomes severe or doesnt improve with this home treatment.


Lymphedema occurs due to an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the tissues, which may develop due to problems with lymph nodes or the absence of lymph nodes. Lymph is a liquid, rich in proteins that travels through the lymphatic system (capilaries and vessels). Lymph is filtered through lymph nodes, which trap and destroy substances such as bacteria. The movement of lymph may be blocked if there is a problem with the lymph nodes or vessels. An untreated blockage can result in infections and deformities.

Lymphedema commonly occurs after radiotherapy or the removal of the lymph nodes in cancer patients. 

You should contact your doctor immediately if you have recently undergone cancer treatment and are experiencing swelling.

Venous insufficiency


Swelling of the foot and ankle is usually an early symptom of venous insufficiency. Venous insufficiency occurs when blood does not move sufficiently upwards from the veins in the legs and feet to the heart. Oneway valves keep blood flowing upwards towards the heart.

If these valves are injured or weakened, the blood which flows into the veins is retained in the lower tissue of the ankles and feet. Should you suffer from venous insufficiency, you should consult your doctor as it can lead to changes in the skin, skin ulcers and infections.


Swelling in the ankle and foot could be a sign of infection. Those who are at high risk of infection in the feet and ankles include people with diabetic neuropathy or other nerve problems in the feet. Those with diabetes should inspect their feet daily to check for blisters or ulcers as nerve damage can prevent the sensation of pain and therefore foot problems may quickly progress.

You should contact your doctor if you notice an infected swollen foot or blister.

Blood clot

Blood clots that form in the veins of the feet can prevent blood flow from the foot to the heart and cause swelling in the ankles and feet. Blood clots may be superficial in veins just under the surface of the skin or they may occur at a deeper level, which is known as deep vein thrombosis.

Blood clots that are deep can block one or more leg veins and could be lethal if they break off and travel to the heart and lungs. Call your doctor immediately if you have swelling, pain or a slight fever.

Heart, liver and/or kidney disease

Swelling may suggest a problem in the heart, liver or kidneys. Swelling in the ankles at night may indicate salt or water retention caused by right side heart failure. When the kidneys do not function as normal, liquid can build up in the body. Liver disease may affect the production of albumin, a protein that stops blood from escaping from blood vessels to the surrounding tissues.

A lack of production of albumin can result in liquid loss, causing liquid to build up in the feet and ankles and possibly the chest and abdomen. Symptoms, such as weight gain and fatigue as well as swelling needs to be immediately dealt with. If you have difficulty breathing, call the emergency services.

Medication side-effects

Some medications may cause swelling in the feet and ankles. If you are concerned that your medication might be causing swelling, please consult your doctor as your medication may need to be altered.