Edema, the build-up of fluid in the feet, can be caused by a number of factors, including injury, disease, or pregnancy. Some of these are perfectly natural and will pass in time. Other times, swelling of the feet is a sign of something wrong with your body. Below is a list of common causes of foot swelling.
Swollen feet are a common occurrence in pregnancy; they swell because you hold more water in your body when pregnant. This water usually finds its way to the lowest points in your body, namely the feet.
To help ease swelling it is recommended that pregnant women do not stand for long periods of time and that they rest with their feet above their heart for at least an hour a day. There are also some foot exercises that can help alleviate swelling that your doctor or midwife can recommend.
Swelling during pregnancy is usually not dangerous, however, if you experience sudden swelling then you may have pre-eclampsia and should see a medical professional immediately.
A recent injury can cause swelling. Broken bones, sprains, and cuts can often be accompanied by swelling. Sometimes you may not know that you have an injury, such as a stress fracture, and the swelling could be the first sign. This is often accompanied by a gradual increase in pain and you should see your doctor if you suspect you have injured your foot.
Swelling of an injured foot can be combated with the RICE method; rest, ice compression, and elevation. Ensure you keep the weight off the foot and apply ice packs to ease the pain and swelling. Compression bandages can also help as can keeping your foot elevated.
Some people develop swollen feet when traveling long distances. This is most often on airplanes as the cabin pressure can affect the feet, however, people can also experience swollen feet in any travel mode where they are sitting still for long periods of time. This is because the blood pools in the leg due to immobility and some fluid passes into the tissue of the foot.
The best way to combat swelling when traveling is to keep the feet active; if you are traveling by air or train then ensure you walk along the aisle regularly. If you are in the car then make stops to walk and stretch your legs. Compression stockings can also be worn to help ease the swelling.
A swollen foot may be a sign that you have a blood clot, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which can be dangerous if not checked. A blood clot can move from its position, usually in the lower legs, and travel to another part of the body such as the brain and lungs. This is called an embolism and can be very dangerous and can even lead to death.
As well as swelling of the lower legs you may experience pain and redness of the skin if you have a blood clot. You should see a doctor immediately if you have these symptoms. They usually prescribe blood-thinning medicines which decrease the chances of blood clotting. You may also be given pressure stockings to wear.
People who are overweight have a higher risk of developing edema as there is more pressure on the feet and veins. The best way to combat this is to lower your body mass index (BMI) by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Your GP can provide information and dietary tips to help you achieve your goal.
Venous Insufficiency and Chronic Venous Insufficiency or CVI
Venous Insufficiency is a condition where veins have trouble sending blood from the legs to the heart due to damage to the valves or walls. This causes the blood to pool in the feet, causing swelling. Chronic venous insufficiency or CVI is a more serious, long-term version of the condition, it is often caused by a blockage in the vein.
As well as swelling, other symptoms include varicose veins, pain, cramping, and sometimes ulcers on the legs.
There are a number of home treatments that you can do to ease the pain and swelling of venous insufficiency, these include wearing compression stockings, keeping active, and not sitting or standing for long periods of time. Plus, if you are obese then losing weight should help ease it.
However, if the condition gets worse then you may need surgery. There are a number of different types, one of which is angioplasty where the vein is opened using a tiny medical balloon. There is also vein stripping, where the damaged vein is removed from the leg. Ablation is another venous insufficiency treatment where the vein is closed off using heat.
To learn more please visit our Venous Insufficiency Treatments page.
Swelling is a common sign of infection. This may be due to an injury, such as a cut toe, or it may occur without an obvious injury and will be due to damage to the foot tissue.
Other symptoms of infection include redness, pain, and warmth in the area as well as excretion of pus.
Infections can usually be treated effectively with antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Ensure you visit your GP promptly; if you leave the infection without treating it then it can lead to complications and can become very painful.
Often swelling can occur due to medications that you are taking. It is most common in antidepressants, diabetes medication, hormones, and blood pressure medication.
The swelling is not usually painful and can be endured while you take the medication. However, if it becomes debilitating then speak to your doctor about changing to a different form of medication.
Organ Disease or Failure
One of the more serious causes of foot swelling is a disease of either the heart, kidney, or liver. If the liver is diseased then this can reduce the production of a protein called albumin, which stops the blood from leaking out of the veins and into the tissue. Right-sided heart failure can cause the feet to retain water and salt while kidney failure causes fluid to build up in the body, especially the feet.
Other symptoms include tiredness and loss of appetite. You should see your doctor immediately if you have these symptoms.