Read below about swollen ankles, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your swollen ankles from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Swollen Ankles Symptoms

As the day wears on, your feet start to throb and your shoes feel tighter. When you finally get to rest your feet and peel off those socks and shoes, you notice it has happened again. Swollen ankles can be unsightly and uncomfortable. The swelling can be a sign of a problem with the ankle itself or a more serious medical condition.

The ankle swelling may be associated with:

Swollen Ankles Causes Overview

Swelling in the body is usually a sign of an underlying problem. Sometimes swelling in a sign of inflammation in the affected area, after an injury, for instance. Inflammation is more likely to affect one area or one side of the body. Swelling can also be caused by problems with fluid balance. When the body holds on to too much fluid, it collects in the legs and ankles due to gravity. This is more likely to affect both sides of the body equally. Some common causes of swollen ankles, divided by category, are outlined below.

Fluid problems

  • Vein issues: Your veins drain blood from the ankles and transport it back to the heart. As we age, problems can develop with this system and fluid can build up.
  • Heart disease: When your heart struggles to pump blood (heart failure), the body holds on to extra fluid that can buildup in your ankles and other areas.
  • Liver disease : A damaged or diseased liver, such as cirrhosis or severe hepatitis, can cause fluid retention or leakage into certain areas of the body.
  • Kidney disease: Your kidneys do the complex job of keeping salt, fluid and electrolytes in balance.

Physical causes:

  • Overuse: Walking all day or exercising more than usual puts strain on the ankles that may lead to temporary inflammation and swelling.
  • Trauma : Swelling may be the most obvious sign of a broken or sprained ankle that may also be painful.
  • Sitting still: Remaining seating for long periods of time, such as during an airplane ride, allows blood and fluid to pool in the ankles due to the force of gravity.

Other medical causes:

  • Pregnancy: Hormones and other effects of pregnancy make the body hold on to more fluid and reduce venous return from the lower extremities and increase the amount of fluid that collects in areas like the ankles.
  • Autoimmune problems: Certain diseases like lupus increase inflammation throughout the body and may lead to ankle swelling.
  • Blood clot: A blockage in your vein (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) prevents blood from draining from the ankle and may travel to arteries in your lungs if not treated appropriate.
  • Infection: Bacteria can invade the skin around the ankles or the ankle joint itself, leading to swelling that is usually also accompanied by warmth and redness.
  • Medications: Certain pills, such as some kinds of blood pressure medications, make it more likely that fluid will pool in your legs and ankles. Your doctor or pharmacist can tell you the side effects of the medicines you take on a regular basis.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Swollen Ankles

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced swollen ankles. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Ankle Arthritis

    Arthritis of the ankle is a degenerative joint disorder occurring in the ankle. It presents with joint pain and stiffness that is typically worse with activity.

    Arthritis is considered irreversible, but symptoms can be effectively managed with treatment. Newer, more effective treatment options have become available in recent years.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    swollen ankle, swollen foot, joint stiffness, pain in one ankle, ankle stiffness
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Acute or Worsening Heart Failure

    Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Heart failure does not mean that the heart has stopped or is about to stop working, but rather that the heart is not able to pump blood the way it should. Usually this happens when the heart has been damaged by another medical condition.

    Outlook is highly variable and depends on the underlying medical condition that caused the heart failure.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath on exertion
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  4. 4.Nephrotic Syndrome

    Nephrotic syndrome is caused by different disorders that damage the kidneys. This damage leads to the release of too much protein in the urine, causing the body to swell.

    Varies by cause of Nephrotic Syndrome

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, weight gain, bilateral leg swelling
    Symptoms that never occur with nephrotic syndrome:
    cut on the foot, recent cut or wound, swollen ankle, swelling of one leg
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Swollen Ankles Checker

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  5. 5.Acute Ankle Bone Infection (Osteomyelitis)

    Osteomyelitis of the ankle is a bacterial or fungal infection of the ankle bones, typically caused by Staph Aureus (40-50% of the time). It is difficult to diagnose as the infection can come from a break in the skin at the area or anywhere else in the body that spreads by blood.

    Improvement during a 6-week treatment with antibiotics

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    moderate fever, constant ankle pain, spontaneous ankle pain, warm red ankle swelling, painful surgical site
    Symptoms that always occur with acute ankle bone infection (osteomyelitis):
    spontaneous ankle pain, constant ankle pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  6. 6.Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (Copd) Exacerbation

    A COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) exacerbation is a worsening of your COPD, causing you to struggle for breathe. This is often caused by an infection in the lungs.

    Depends on treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, productive cough, wheezing, worsening cough, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  7. 7.Right Heart Failure (Cor Pulmonale)

    Cor pulmonale is known as right heart failure and is often a long-term consequence of high blood pressure or COPD.

    Treatment depends on severity of illness.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath on exertion, wheezing, decreased exercise tolerance
    Symptoms that never occur with right heart failure (cor pulmonale):
    severe chest pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  8. 8.Cirrhosis

    Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver. Scar tissue forms because of injury or long-term disease. In the United States, alcoholism and Hepatitis C are the most common causes. Scar tissue cannot do what healthy liver tissue does - make protein, help fight infections, clean the blood, help digest food and store energy.

    Cirrhosis is a life-long liver condition, but is not expected to lower life expectancy if treated right away and if existing damage is not extensive.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Swollen Ankles Treatments and Relief

If you have some occasional swelling, the good news is that there are several swollen ankle treatments you can try in the comfort of your own home. These common-sense measures can reduce discomfort and get you back on your feet. If the swelling persists for a long period of time or becomes particularly severe or bothersome, then visit your doctor as medications and tests may be in order.

At-home swollen ankle treatments:

  • Get moving: If you've been sitting still, get up and use those legs. The contraction of the leg muscles helps push fluid back into the veins and out of your ankles.
  • Rest: On the other hand, if you've been on your feet or have injured your ankle, it's best to take it easy for a few days.
  • Ice: Cold temperatures constrict blood vessels, reduce swelling and can help with discomfort.
  • Elevation : Keep those legs up on a chair or ottoman to counteract the effect of gravity, which naturally pulls fluid down into your ankles.
  • Compression stockings : These tight socks can be worn for several hours to help reduce ankle swelling.

Professional swollen ankle treatments:

  • Detailed physical examination: Your doctor will examine the area of swelling but will also look for signs of problems with your heart, kidneys, and liver as these can lead to swelling throughout the body.
  • Medication: Certain drugs, such as water pills or diuretics, help the body remove excess fluid in a natural way. Other medicines can treat underlying medical conditions that lead to ankle swelling.
  • Blood tests: These can inform your doctor if your organs are functioning properly and if your medications are having the desired effect.
  • Imaging: An ultrasound or other type of image may be taken of the area of swelling to look for problems like blood clots. (DVT).

Seek help without delay if you have:

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Severe pain, including chest pain
  • Redness or warmth over the ankle joint
  • Swelling in one leg after sitting still for a prolonged time, such as during plane travel

FAQs About Swollen Ankles

Here are some frequently asked questions about swollen ankles.

Why do my ankles swell after a flight?

Ankles swell after a flight because fluid collects in the legs over the duration of the flight. This is partially because of increasingly tight seating arrangements on planes, the long duration during which passengers do not rise and walk during travel, and the negative pressure that your body experiences during the flight. If your ankles tend to swell to the point of discomfort, you can wear compression socks.

Do certain medications cause ankle swelling?

Many medications can cause fluid retention. Once your body begins to retain fluid, the fluid settles in the lowest area of your body — your ankles. Medications that can cause ankle swelling include oral or topical steroids, NSAIDS or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, several diabetes medications, antidepressant medications, and certain blood pressure and heart medications called calcium channel blockers.

Why do my ankles swell after giving birth?

After giving birth, the blood that was going to the baby and the placenta (the organ that keeps the baby alive) re-enters your bloodstream. You have a little more blood than you did before you became pregnant. This is generally a good thing. However, this blood can cause extra fluid to pool in your legs until it is reabsorbed into your body.

When should you seek medical attention for swollen ankles?

You should seek medical attention first if you see any changes in your skin. If you have a non-healing cut, a blue or darkening of the skin of one or both legs, or even a loss of hair along the legs, you should seek medical attention. Second, if one leg is more swollen than the other, you should seek medical attention. This can be a sign of a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis or DVT), and if left untreated can travel to the lung and may be life-threatening. Finally, if you experience pain or a decrease in sensation of either one or both legs you should seek medical attention. This may be a sign of diabetes, severe edema, or a lack of blood flow to the lower extremity — all of which require medical treatment. If one leg feels cold, seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

Can swollen ankles be a sign of menopause?

Yes, swollen ankles can be a sign of menopause. As the hormones of the body change, the fluid balance of the body also changes, and fluid can pool in many areas. When it pools in the tissues of the abdomen one can feel bloated, and one can also experience leg swelling during menopause.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Ankles

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Do you have high blood pressure?
  • Q.Are you having any difficulty walking?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our swollen ankles symptom checker to find out more.

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Swollen Ankles Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced swollen ankles have also experienced:

    • 6% Swelling of Both Feet
    • 5% Fatigue
    • 1% Headache
  • People who have experienced swollen ankles had symptoms persist for:

    • 30% Less Than a Week
    • 27% Over a Month
    • 23% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced swollen ankles were most often matched with:

    • 63% Acute or Worsening Heart Failure
    • 27% Rheumatoid Arthritis
    • 9% Ankle Arthritis
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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