Foot, leg, and ankle swelling
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.
Swelling of the ankles - feet - legs; Ankle swelling; Foot swelling; Leg swelling; Edema - peripheral; Peripheral edema
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.
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.
Certain medications may also cause your legs to swell:
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.
Fang JC, O'Gara PT. The physical examination: an evidence-based approach. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 12.
Goldman L. Approach to the patient with possible cardiovascular disease. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 48.
Review Date: 5/29/2011
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, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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