Swollen Foot

By Barbara Hales, M.D.
Categories: ,

A young woman with a swollen foot

What is a Swollen Foot?

A swollen foot is one where there is fluid buildup in the tissues and muscles of the foot. Excessive foot and lower leg swelling is known as peripheral edema.

What causes a Swollen Foot?

A swollen foot is very common dependent upon activity such as standing for long time or excessive walking. While it is more common in adults, seniors may experience the peripheral edema from wear and tear on muscles and blood vessels.

Medical causes of swollen foot include:

  • Foot injury- ligaments holding the ankle in place can be overstretched in sprained ankles causing swelling.
  • Lymphedema- a condition of lymphatic fluid buildup in foot tissues. This occurs from missing or problematic lymph vessels causing obstruction of lymph fluid movement. This can happen secondary to radiation therapy or removal of the lymph nodes and channels.
  • Venous Insufficiency- swelling due to a lack of proper blood flow in the veins from the feet to the heart. When valves in the veins become weak or damaged, blood leaks downward in the veins causing fluid retention. Skin changes ulcers and infection can be seen with chronic insufficiency
  • Pregnancy complications- excessive swelling after the 5th month can be due to preeclampsia, associated with hypertension, headaches, nausea, and protein in the urine.
  • Blood clots- found in the leg veins are dangerous because they can block the return of blood from the legs to the heart. Deep vein thrombosis is a condition where blood clots obstruct major veins of the legs, which can be life-threatening if they break free, and move to the lungs and heart. Foot and leg swelling accompanied by pain, color changes and fever are suggestive of this problem, which requires immediate medical attention.
  • Infections- as seen with both swelling, sores and blisters, suggest diabetic neuropathy or nerve damage in the feet. Pain may not be perceived properly due to nerve damage with decreased sensation so that foot problems fester without keen observation and treatment. Contact your doctor.
  • Kidney disease- causing decreased kidney function can lead to fluid accumulation and foot swelling.
  • Cardiac conditions- as seen in right-sided heart failure can contribute to water retention and swelling in the feet and ankles.
  • Liver Disease- can prevent adequate production of the protein albumin, which causes leakage of fluid out of the blood vessels leading to foot swelling.

Certain drugs leading to swelling of the foot could include:

  • Steroids
  • Antidepressants
  • Hormones
  • Calcium channel blockers as seen in blood pressure medication
  • Diabetic drugs
  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Possible symptoms linked to a swollen foot include:

  • Fluid accumulation
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Skin discoloration
  • Kin hardening in the affected area
  • Enlarged or purple vein in the affected leg
  • Paleness and coolness of a leg

What should I do about a swollen foot?

To reduce foot swelling due to injuries, rest the foot, elevate the foot, apply ice packs and use compression bandages to wrap the foot and ankle. If swelling persists or pain increases, consult with your doctor.

If you feel that a swollen foot stems from drugs, speak to your pharmacist and doctor about altering the dose or type of medication you’re on.