Common causes of swollen feet and ankles


Swelling of the ankles and feet is a common problem. This can be caused by a variety of things. One way that doctors can determine the cause of swelling is by determining whether it occurs in one leg or both legs equally.

This article explains why your ankles and feet can swell. You will discuss how medications, injuries, and illnesses can affect swelling of the ankles and feet.

Get Medical Information / Ellen Lindner

See your doctor for sudden swelling

In many cases, the cause of the swelling is something that requires medical attention. For example, you may have an infection or injury. If swelling occurs suddenly, seek medical attention immediately.

Some of the more common conditions that can cause swelling of the foot or ankle include the following:

  • Injury
  • Arthritis
  • Vein problems
  • Thrombus
  • Infection
  • The pregnancy
  • Medical conditions
  • Medicines


The most common foot and ankle injuries that cause swelling include ankle sprains , tendon ruptures, and fractures . Excessive consumption can lead to tendonitis , bursitis , and ligament or muscle sprains.

These are all potential causes of edema. And they are more likely to occur with sports, a high volume of exercise, or changes in the volume or type of activity. This includes walking or running on new terrain.


Arthritis or inflammation of the joints can cause swelling of the foot or ankle. Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis that can sometimes cause swelling. This usually occurs in a joint. Gout is another form of arthritis that usually causes a very painful, red, and inflamed joint in the big toe. Gout can also affect the ankle.

Certain autoimmune diseases cause edema and arthritis that affect both feet equally, such as rheumatoid arthritis , psoriatic arthritis , lupus , and reactive arthritis . In each of these conditions, the immune system attacks healthy tissues, causing pain, inflammation, and damage.

Vein problems

Leg vein problems, such as varicose veins or spider veins , often cause swelling in the lower extremities. The veins return blood with deoxygenated or anoxic blood to the heart. They can be damaged with age. This is why we see swelling in the legs and ankles.

What You May Not Know About Varicose Veins

This is called venous insufficiency . The most common signs are recurrent swelling in one leg (although both can be affected), varicose veins or spider veins in the leg or ankle, and brown discoloration of the skin that can develop over time.


Pain and swelling in the lower leg can also be signs of a blood clot. It is also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT can lead to life-threatening complications and requires immediate medical attention.

DVT is often due to inactivity. In some situations, it may be difficult for you to move your legs frequently and this could put you at risk for DVT. These situations include:

  • Travel by air
  • Plaster bandage
  • Illness requiring bed rest

Other risk factors include:

If you are a woman using birth control, your risk of DVT increases even more if you also smoke or have an inherited blood clotting disorder known as factor V Leiden.


Infection of the skin is a common cause of edema. This is usually accompanied by pain and redness. Swelling is commonly seen with ingrown toenails (onychocryptosis), infections between the toes, and severe forms of athlete's foot .

Other ways the foot can become infected include injuries such as puncture wounds or nail injuries, as well as wounds caused by diabetes . Although much less common, infection can occur in the joints even without direct injury.

The pregnancy

Swelling of the ankles and feet during pregnancy is common. It is caused by a combination of pregnancy hormones , an increased volume of fluid carried through the blood vessels, and a growing uterus. This puts pressure on the veins that carry blood from the legs.

Leg swelling can also appear after childbirth. The swelling can last for several days after delivery. Swelling during pregnancy should be discussed with your doctor or midwife.

If you suddenly develop swelling during pregnancy, you will need immediate medical attention. This could mean that you have developed pre- eclampsia , a dangerous type of high blood pressure that can occur during pregnancy.

Medical conditions

Diseases known to cause edema that affects both legs equally include:

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is also a known cause of swelling in the ankles and feet.


Some prescription medications can cause swelling that affects both legs equally. They include:

Drinking alcohol can also cause swelling in the ankles or feet.


Swelling of the ankles and feet is quite common. This swelling can occur for a number of reasons. Sometimes swelling can occur due to injury or trauma. Your ankles and feet may be swollen due to arthritis or certain medical conditions.

Pregnant women may also experience swelling of the feet and ankles. Other people may have swollen ankles and feet due to a blood clot or vein problems. For this reason, it is important to seek immediate medical attention if your ankles and feet suddenly start to swell for no apparent reason.

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