Leg Vein Health

Updated 18 January 2016

Swelling of ankles and feet

This refers to swelling of the soft tissues of the feet and ankles - the bones are not enlarged.

Most people taking part in sports suffer injury at some point. Find out here which injuries are common, and how they can be prevented and treated.


  • Injury to the foot or ankle - including recent surgery
  • Infection
  • Burn wounds
  • Insect bites or stings
  • Arthritis of joints of the foot or ankle, including gout

  • Deep vein thrombosis (clot)
  • Varicose veins
  • Prolonged sitting (such as during long flights)
  • Excessively tight clothing
  • Damage to the lymphatic system - trauma, infection or congenital abnormalities.

  • Pregnancy- the large uterus acts as a mechanical obstruction, partly blocking the main leg veins where they join the abdominal veins. This causes increased back pressure, making fluid leak out of the veins. This fluid collects, by gravity, around the ankles.
  • Obesity
  • Advanced age
  • Prolonged standing - as found in some occupations
  • Malnutrition
  • Hypothyroidism - can cause particular swelling of the front of the lower leg, including the ankles.

  • Heart failure results in fluid accumulation (by gravity) when the heart can no longer effectively pump fluids around the body. Fluid seeps out of the blood vessels and settles in the tissues, causing them to swell.
  • Liver failure produces jaundice, but also causes fluid accumulation in body cavities (such as the abdomen). The overall increase in fluid, plus the pressure caused by a swollen belly, together result in swollen ankles.
  • Kidney failure means the body cannot get rid of excess fluids. As this builds up, it will show first in areas most affected by gravity, such as the feet and ankles.

  • Calcium channel blockers - these are used for lowering blood pressure. They are very effective, but nearly always cause swelling of the feet and ankles
  • Steroids and steroid hormones, like oestrogen (found in contraceptive pills) and testosterone.
  • Some anti-depressants

  • Full blood count - for anaemia, infection, malnutrition
  • Clotting tests - for suspected deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Blood electrolytes and kidney function tests
  • Liver function test
  • ECG and chest X-ray for heart failure
  • X-rays of the feet and ankles for arthritis problems
  • Special blood tests for auto-immune disease - such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Tests for gout

  • diuretics (where appropriate) to reduce the total fluid load
  • wearing support stockings
  • lying down with feet slightly elevated whenever possible
  • reducing salt intake
  • increasing mobility - more walking


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