- If your ankles and feet look swollen, it could be a temporary case of diminished circulation.
- It could also be the result of a mild injury, such as a sprained ankle that you can treat at home.
- Liver disease, kidney disease, and diabetes can also cause swelling in your feet and ankles.
- Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.
Swelling in the feet and ankles is a common problem that can cause discomfort and pain. There are many different reasons why your feet and ankles might swell and treatment will depend on the cause.
Here are seven reasons for swelling in the feet and ankles and how to treat the underlying condition.
1. Diminished circulation
How to treat it: Store-bought compression socks can help reduce swelling by returning blood from the extremities, like the feet, back to the rest of the body. Regular exercise, like walking, can also help reduce swelling and improve circulation as you age, Pinker says.
2. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy
Blood sugar levels that are consistently too high can cause nerve damage in the feet, which can result in tingling, numbness, and swelling, Pinker says. This is a condition known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
- An inability to feel pain or temperature changes
- Sharp pains
- Bone and joint pain
How to treat it: The nerve damage is usually permanent, but you can stop it from getting worse. Treatment includes lowering blood sugar levels and keeping them within a target range discussed with your doctor. Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor might also prescribe a medication for diabetic nerve pain, like gabapentin or pregabalin.
3. Ankle sprain
Some injuries, like twisting or spraining your ankle, can cause swelling around the part of the ankle where the injury occurred, Pinker says.
How to treat it: You can treat an ankle sprain and reduce swelling by:
- Elevating your ankle and resting
- Applying ice
- Wrapping your ankle in a compression bandage to gently apply pressure
Mild to moderate ankle sprains can usually be treated at home. However, if your ankle continues to swell or bruise even after taking the above steps, or if it still hurts to put weight on it days after the injury, seek medical attention. You may have a more severe sprain that could require physical therapy or surgery, Pinker says.
4. Liver disease
Some liver diseases, like cirrhosis which is severe scarring of the liver, can cause low blood levels of a protein called albumin. Low levels of albumin can cause fluid to build up in the tissues of the legs and feet, Pinker says.
Other signs of liver disease include:
- Loss of appetite and nausea
- Itchy skin
- Weight loss
- Abdominal swelling
How to treat it: Liver damage caused by cirrhosis can not be reversed, but medications can help manage symptoms and prevent further damage. If you experience swelling in the feet and ankles caused by liver disease, a low-sodium diet may help reduce swelling as well as compression socks and elevating the feet, Pinker says.
5. Kidney disease
Kidney disease can cause extra sodium and fluid to collect in your tissue, leading to swelling in the feet and ankles, Pinker says.
Other signs of kidney disease include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dry and itchy skin
- Blood in the urine
- Puffiness around the eyes
- Urge to urinate frequently
- Loss of appetite
How to treat it: There is no cure for chronic kidney disease, but treatment can help manage symptoms and slow the disease's progression. Treatment options include medications to control swelling and a low protein diet, which can reduce the amount of work your kidneys have to do in filtering out waste products.
An infection in the foot or ankle can cause inflammation which often results in swelling, Pinker says. There are a number of different infections that may be responsible for this, including:
- An infected wound: Your feet or ankles can swell if you have a wound, like an insect bite or a cut, that becomes infected.
- Cellulitis: This is a type of staph infection that is localized to the skin and soft tissue and can cause swelling, says David, Ehrlich, DPM, a podiatrist with Advanced Podiatry. A staph infection is caused by staphylococcus bacteria commonly found on the skin.
Other signs of infection include:
- Warm skin
How to treat it: Treatment for a foot or ankle infection typically includes oral antibiotics.
7. Deep vein thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition that requires immediate medical care, Ehrlich says. DVT is a blood clot, typically in one of your legs, that occurs after long periods of immobilzation, like during an international flight. It can also occur because of an injury or a medical condition that causes blood clots
Signs of DVT include:
- Swelling in the affected leg, and in some cases, both legs
- Pain, redness and tenderness around the calf muscles
- A feeling of warmth in the affected leg
An untreated clot can travel from the leg and into the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism which can be fatal, Ehrlich says.
How to treat it: Early diagnosis of DVT is key, as this condition can be treated with blood thinners to avoid complications.
There are many different causes of swelling in the feet and ankles, including an infection from a bug bite or an injury like a sprained ankle.
In some cases, swelling in the feet and ankles can be a sign of a severe health complication that requires medical attention, like deep vein thrombosis, diabetic neuropathy, or liver or kidney disease.
If you experience foot and ankle swelling that does not resolve in a few days, reach out to your doctor. A primary care physician can help determine what may be causing your swelling and refer you to a specialist if needed.