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Why are my feet swollen?

woman holding feet
There are a variety of reasons for feet swelling, from trapped fluid to infections. Discover the different reasons here as well as how to help ease them.

Feet can swell for a variety of reasons; many people first experience swollen feet after sitting down for an extended period, for example, while flying, or in a hot car on a long drive. Other simple causes include overeating salty food and pregnancy. In these instances, swollen feet are likely to go down on their own.

However, sometimes foot swelling persists and causes severe discomfort. In this article, we’ll investigate what causes swollen feet and advise you on how to ease symptoms.

Finally, we’ll suggest when to consult a doctor about swollen feet.

What causes swollen feet?

Swollen feet have a variety of causes, with varying degrees of severity, which include:

  • Trapped fluid

Swelling is caused by fluid escaping from blood vessels and becoming trapped in nearby tissues. This fluid typically gathers around the feet and ankles. Often, swelling caused by the fluid is accompanied by discomfort, skin puckering, and shine.1

Ways to ease trapped fluid

Ease trapped fluid at home by frequently moving, raising the feet above heart level, wearing support stockings, and eating less salt.2

  • Ankle or foot sprain

Sprains are caused by overstretching ligaments. Foot and ankle sprains typically cause swelling in both the ankle and foot.

Ways to ease foot sprain

The best way to ease a foot sprain is by resting and icing the affected limb. It’s best to rest the limb by elevating the foot or ankle affected above heart level.3

  • Pregnancy 

Often women in the last trimester of the pregnancy experience swollen ankles and feet.4

Ways to ease pregnancy swelling

Pregnant women should wear comfortable shoes and rest whenever possible, to minimise ankle swelling. Raising the feet above heart level to drain excess fluid.5

  • Heat

Hot weather causes many people to experience foot swelling when they may not otherwise. This is because heat causes veins to widen, in an attempt to reduce overall system temperature.

Ways to ease heat swelling

Stay well hydrated in hot weather to reduce heat swelling. Wear clothes made of light, natural fibres, and supportive shoes which enable air circulation, to encourage cooling.

  • Infection

People who have diabetes are more susceptible to foot and ankle swelling as a cause of infection. Other symptoms, including foot sores and a bad smell, indicate an infection in that area.6

Ways to ease swelling caused by infection

The best way to ease infection-related swelling is a course of antibiotics, taken in consultation with a medical professional.

When to see a doctor for swollen feet

Usually, when swollen feet are a cause for concern, they’re accompanied by other severe symptoms. Swollen feet can be a symptom of illnesses like kidney disease, liver failure, and heart disease.7

Visit a doctor if swollen feet have a sudden onset, and are accompanied by any of these symptoms8:

  • Blood-tinged phlegm
  • Jaundice
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Urine stopping
  • Fainting spells
  • Dizziness
  • Seizure
  • Bloody stools
  • Skin irritation

Last updated: 24 March 2021

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