Edema: Swelling in Your Feet

Your body has many different ways to let you know something is wrong. Your nervous system will quickly send intense signals of pain if you accidently slam a car door on your hand. Your skin will start to blister when exposed to dangerous heat or cold temperatures. In a similar manner, swollen feet and ankles—a condition known as edema—indicate several possible issues. Being able to recognize the condition is essential for knowing when to seek medical care at our Indianapolis, IN office.

Swollen Feet and Ankles Explained

From a medical perspective, edema is a condition of swollen tissue. This happens when extra fluid cannot escape and get trapped in body tissues. It is particularly common in the lower extremities because of gravity. There are several reasons edema happens, including damaged veins, pregnancy, post-surgery or injury, disease, and medication.

Swollen foot

Leg and ankle swelling and puffiness are the primary symptoms, but the skin will also appear to be stretched and shiny. If you press down on the swollen area for a couple of seconds and then raise your finger, the dimple in the skin will remain.

Another problem that is extremely important to be aware of is pulmonary edema — which is shortness of breath, difficulty with breathing, and chest pain. Seek immediate medical care if these symptoms are present. In addition, any leg or calve pain with persistent swelling and localized temperature that develops after extended periods of sitting in one place—like on a long plane flight—may be an indication of a blood clot and will require prompt medical attention.

One of the main causes of edema is pregnancy. The condition develops as the result of an expanded womb pressing against blood vessels and increased fluid levels produced by the body. These excess fluids are most likely to end up pooling in the lower extremities. Overloading the veins produces damage to the valves whose job is to keep the fluid from flowing back into the leg. A cycle develops where the damaged valves allows more swelling that creates more damage to the vein.

Whereas pregnancy is one of the leading causes of swollen feet and ankles, there are certainly other factors that can cause edema, including:

  • Surgery
  • Side effects from medication
  • Damaged veins
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Liver disease/cirrhosis
  • Kidney damage or disease
  • Sodium rich diet

Complications and Edema Treatment

The swollen tissues in your lower limbs is a sign you need treatment. Failure to receive the appropriate care can lead to issues like stiffness, difficulty walking, increased pain, decreased blood circulation, and heightened risk of infection in the affected area. Over a long time the skin loses the ability to shrink back and then becomes hard and fibrotic.  After this occurs, the skin becomes thin and weak leading to ulceration and scarring. A clear yellow fluid can leak out of the skin or a cellulitis will develop.

For mild cases of edema, home care may prove to be effective. This can entail:

  • Elevation. Keeping your swollen foot or ankle above heart level, especially while sleeping at night, can help redistribute the excess fluid. This decreases the swelling, so elevate your affected foot when possible during the day and then prop it up on a couple of pillows at night.
  • Compression. Compression stockings are a “love vs hate” relationship. These useful garments apply pressure and keep excess fluids from pooling in your lower tissues, but they are a challenge to put on.  The life span is 3-6 months, they are not inexpensive, and color options HAVE BEEN limited. We now can order a multitude of styles that include plaid, herringbone, hearts, and lace patterns.
  • Moving. Staying physically active is important for your arterial and venous circulation. Muscles contract with activity and pump fluid out of the legs and back up to your heart. Our office can recommend appropriate exercises for you based on your specific condition.
  • Reduced sodium intake. Salt makes your body retain fluids, so keep it to a minimum. The sneaky foods are canned vegetables, soups, sodas, and lunch meats.
  • Massage. External pressure can move extra fluid out of the swollen area. When doing this, use firm (but not overly hard) strokes in the direction of your heart for optimal benefit.

No matter if the edema causing problems for you or a loved one comes from pregnancy or an altogether different issue, Dr. Leibovitz is ready to help. Contact our Indianapolis, IN office today by calling (317) 545-0505 to request an appointment and we will provide the effective care you need.