Swollen ankles are medically known as peripheral edema. Edema is the accumulation of fluids that cause swelling in the lower limbs of the body. The lower limbs that get affected by peripheral edema are legs, ankles, and feet.
The condition is usually not painful unless of course, it is injury-related. Swollen ankles are associated with aging, which is why the condition is most prominent in older people than in children or younger adults. There are various conditions that cause swelling of ankles. The obvious ones are pregnancy, heart diseases, obesity, and arthritis.
Some medications may cause or aggravate the condition. Other than this, it can merely be due to wearing undersized pumps, sitting, standing, or walking for a long time. If your ankles suddenly start feeling puffy without being injured, consult your physician immediately as there may be a serious underlying cause.
In the meantime browse through these 13 unusual causes of swollen ankles.
1. Wearing Tight Pants
Did you know that wearing tight clothes can be hazardous to your health? Yes, in particular, those cute, tight, in-style jeans that you always squeeze into when going out. Even though they may be fashionable, tight clothing causes many health problems. They block or restrict the flow of blood to all parts of the body, including ankles.
Tight jeans can inhibit the blood from flowing freely and stimulate the swelling of ankles and other lower limbs. In this case, there won’t be any sufficient blood reaching the lower body, hence the swelling of ankles. Tight jeans cause the appearance of varicose veins on ankles. In the US, 31% of women have varicose veins, and wearing tight pants is amongst the major causes. Clothes with elastic ankle seams are responsible for swollen ankles. They basically tighten the body and not allow for sufficient blood flow to the ankles.
2. Undersized Shoes
Wearing tight shoes also causes swollen ankles. Just like wearing tight pants, undersized shoes restrict proper blood circulation. This causes the fluids to build up around the affected surroundings, which in this case are feet and ankles.
What would be the best thing to do in this case is to avoid wearing those shoes, even if they are your favorite or the only pair in the closet. Sometimes people force themselves into smaller shoe sizes only because they love the shoe so much or they prefer it over other pairs.
If your ankles start swelling, it would be best to stick to the correct shoe size. When buying shoes, always consider the shape of your feet and the type of shoe you are buying. For sneakers, choose the ones that are wider in the toe area and for heels, always choose a size or two bigger than your actual size.
3. Too Much Salt Intake
Excessive intake of sodium contributes to various health conditions including swollen ankles. This is because salt retains water in the body. Consuming too much of it increases the fluid level in the body and stimulates edema in any part of the body, but particularly in ankles. Medline Plus links the inability of the body to get rid of excessive fluid in the lower limbs of gravity. It states that “it is hard for the heart to pump the fluid out of the lower limbs and up against gravity”.
Therefore, controlling the amount of sodium you consume will help to reduce ankle swelling and improve other health conditions such as high blood pressure. The recommended intake of salt is not more than 2.000mg per day of table salt; less than a teaspoon. Find out from your doctor about the main cause of your swollen ankle before depriving yourself of salt.
4. Insect Bites
Bites from any crawling or flying insect can result in health problems as mild as skin irritation to more severe and life-threatening issues. The reason why insect bites are amongst the list of unusual causes of swollen ankles is that feet are easily exposed to insect habitats. For example, wearing sandals or shorts exposes your ankles, feet, and legs. If you come in contact with insects, these uncovered body parts would be at risk of being bitten.
Depending on the reaction of your body and the type of insect, the stings and bites are benign, mild, and severe. People allergic to insect stings, for example, bee stings can react badly and swell the whole body. The most common insects that have a record of attacking humans are bees, spiders, wasps, and mosquitoes. Some of these insects are disease transmitters, it is recommended that you seek medical attention if bitten.
Medication has become the most common lower extremity edema offender, according to Podiatrists. It either comes as a cause or an aggravator of the edema condition, thus swollen ankles would be a side effect of the medication. For example, calcium channel blockers cause small blood vessels to dilate, thereby allowing fluid to leak out from the vessels into the ankle tissues.
Other types include hormone drugs such as estrogen and testosterone, steroids, antidepressants, and high blood pressure medication. Most of the time, the swelling triggered by medication is temporary; it goes away soon after the treatment course or after the medication is fully flushed out of the system. If it is a long-term medication, the swelling subsides when the body gets used to the treatment provided. Failure to do so, you should let your doctors know so that they change the treatment plan that your system will not reject.
6. Bacterial Infection
Bacterial infections are unusual causes of swollen ankles. The bacteria can accumulate and infect the soft ankle tissues or the joint itself. The infection of the ankle soft tissue is known as cellulitis. It usually appears in the form of blisters. The rash is always red, tender, and feels hot around the affected area. Even though cellulitis is not contagious, it usually spreads rapidly and can affect the whole leg within 24 hours.
The bacterium that causes this type of ankle infection enters the body through cuts or skin tears. People who have cuts, insect bites, or fungal infections are likely to have cellulitis. Other factors that can put you at risk of having cellulitis infection are the use of immunosuppressive medication, being overweight, have a history of edema, or have had lymph node surgery. If you have cellulitis symptoms you should quickly get treatment; untreated cellulitis can severely damage nerves.
During pregnancy, some women experience the swelling of lower limbs, which are legs, feet, and ankles. This is because, during this period, the body expands or grows bigger to allow the fetus to grow. During this time, ankles get to support all the weight gained hence they start swelling. If you are pregnant, swollen feet shouldn’t alarm you as it is a normal condition associated with pregnancy.
However, sudden and extreme ankle swelling may signal preeclampsia. This condition results from excessive protein in the bloodstream and usually happens around week 20 of pregnancy. Preeclampsia symptoms other than swollen ankles include nausea, high blood pressure, abdominal pain, protein in the urine, and severe headaches. This pregnancy complication can be life-threatening, with approximately 5% of women in the US experiencing it. Research shows that untreated preeclampsia can pose health issues such as HELLP syndrome and eclampsia for the mother and her baby.
8. Venous Insufficiency
Arteries are responsible for transporting clean oxygenated blood from the heart to all parts of the body. Then the veins carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart. Venous insufficiency occurs when the vein valves stop the blood from flowing back. When veins fail to send the blood backward, the blood accumulates in the leg veins including in ankles. This causes the inflammation of ankle issues.
There are various causes linked to this condition. The common being blood clots and varicose veins. In cases where blood clots are the main cause, the clots block the flow of blood; resulting in venous insufficiency. While in varicose veins, there would be severe valve damage which allows the blood to leak and build up in ankle tissue. Women are most likely to have venous insufficiency than men. The most affected age ranges from 40 to 49 in women and 70 to 79 in men.
Another unusual condition that contributes to the inflammation of ankles is lymphedema. This condition refers to the malfunction of lymph nodes. Most patients who have had their lymph nodes removed are prone to lymphedema. The lymphatic system controls the flow of fluid responsible for flushing out viruses, bacteria, and toxins found in the body. This fluid goes through the lymph vessels into the nodes whereby waste is filtered and eventually flushed out of the system.
If the vessels are damaged or lymph nodes removed, the fluid won’t be drained; causing it to accumulate and trigger swelling. There are primary and secondary causes of lymphedema; it can just start without any stimulating factors (primary) or it can be due to other secondary diseases. Underlying causes include lymph node surgery, cancer radiation treatment, and the infection of lymph nodes. If lymphedema is left untreated, it can lead to cancerous deformity of the ankles.
10. Blood Clots
Blood clots that form in the leg veins restrict the amount of blood flowing back to the heart. This causes the swelling of feet and ankles. There are two main types of blood clot conditions that affect ankles. There’s the superficial which takes place on veins just beneath the skin and the deep, known as deep-vein thrombosis. The latter is usually more severe than the former. Just like in venous insufficiency, the clots block the blood flow and cause fluid buildup in the veins around the affected area.
Blood clots are usually life-threatening and it is very crucial to immediately get treatment if having any symptoms. This is because clots can break loose and flow to the most sensitive parts of the heart and lungs. Common symptoms of blood clots include swelling of lower limbs that is accompanied by pain, fever, and the change of skin color in the affected area.