As the weather warms, many of us shed our heavy winter boots and shoes for lighter, airier sandals or sneakers. However, if we are one of those who has swollen ankles and feet, switching to these lighter shoes can be as painful and uncomfortable.
What Causes Swollen Ankles?
There are many reasons behind swollen ankles (Edema), and warmer weather can exacerbate this condition. Edema is the accumulation of fluids and is most common in the extremities (feet, ankles, and legs, hands, and arms), and it can also occur in the lungs (pulmonary edema). Tiny blood vessels called capillaries leak fluid into the surrounding tissues. Swelling, tightness, and discomfort characterize edema.
Why Does Edema Worsen in Warm Weather?
During the warmer months, our body has it’s own ways of cooling down, and the swelling in our feet or ankles can increase with this natural process.
When temperatures rise, our veins dilate (expand), to cool down naturally. Sometimes, however, veins can struggle to pump blood back to the heart, and this causes the fluid to be retained in surrounding tissues. Gravity assists in holding that fluid in our feet and ankles.
Edema can be a symptom of serious issues such as heart disease, kidney or liver problems, protein deficiency, or weakness/damage to the veins of the legs but more often, edema is caused by:
- Having too much salt in your diet
- Staying in one position (sitting or standing) for extended periods
- Premenstrual symptom
- Certain medications or hormones
- Certain diabetes medications called thiazolidinediones
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
What Makes Edema Worse?
Edema is uncomfortable for anyone, but certain things that increase the stress on our vascular system can increase the risk of swollen feet and ankles:
- Age – as we age, our blood vessels weaken, making our chances of edema more considerable.
- Pregnancy – pregnancy strains all of the body’s systems and the veins are no exception.
- Staying Still – sitting or standing in the same position for prolonged periods means your body has to work harder to pump blood through your body.
- Salt – Too much salt in your diet causes an imbalance of electrolytes that leads to edema.
How Can Edema in the Feet and Ankles Be Treated?
There are several ways to help alleviate the discomfort of swollen ankles:
Elevate your feet periodically to assist the veins in pumping blood back up through the body.
When possible, steer clear of hot weather while your legs, ankles, and feet recover.
It may seem counterintuitive when your ankles are swollen with fluids, but not drinking enough water will cause the salt in your body to retain every bit of water you take in. Keeping a healthy balance of water and salt is important.
Be aware that 90 percent of Americans eat too much salt. Cut your intake down to a minimum.
Getting enough exercise walking or bicycling or any activity that helps generate circulation in your legs can help reduce swelling caused by edema.
These are not just tight stockings. Compression socks can assist in reducing swelling caused by edema by applying external pressure to the veins in the legs and ankles. These socks are remarkably suited to treating edema.
Ultimately, nobody wants to be stuck with swollen ankles during the warm months of the year. If your feet and ankles are swollen after following these tips, it may be beneficial to find a vein specialist who can evaluate your situation and advise you of treatments options.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Susanne Woloson on 5-01-2020.
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