Swollen Ankles: What Can Be The Causes?

Swollen Ankles

The swelling of the ankles is a very common problem, which can often occur in the heat, and that affects mainly the elderly, most subjects also to suffer from localized swelling of the feet. However, even overweight people and pregnant women, especially at the end of gestation, may experience this disorder due to increased body weight.

Also the sedentary lifestyle or some medical pathologies can be among the causes of swollen ankles: in this article we will deepen the topic, also analyzing some possible remedies to mitigate the symptoms of this annoying disorder.

Swollen ankles: Possible causes

The ankle connects the foot to the leg: its articulation, mobile and hinged, is located between the tibia, fibula and a bone of the foot called an astragalus. This cylindrical joint is covered by a connective tissue that contains the synovial membrane inside it, capable of producing a liquid that allows the bones to flow over one another. The structure of the ankle is very stressed by the many daily activities we do, so over time it can suffer traumas, such as tendinitis or sprains.

As for the swelling, the first aspect to consider is whether it affects both ankles or just one. In the first case it is called unilateral swelling and can often be associated with a trauma , such as those mentioned above, or with a pathology that affects only that body district (such as a vascular or joint disease). Bilateral swelling, on the other hand, can be caused by a systemic problem, such as a rheumatic disease.

The factors that can affect are, therefore, numerous: let’s see together which are the main disorders and diseases that have swollen ankles among their symptoms.

Water retention

One of the main causes is water retention, or a stagnation of liquids in our body, which accumulate more in some areas such as the stomach, hips, legs and ankles.

This problem mainly affects women, but there are some simple remedies that can be taken to counter it and ranging from self-massage to a diet rich in foods that help diuresis and the elimination of excess fluids, such as fruits and vegetables.


Among the diseases that can be connected to swelling of the ankles is biliary cirrhosis, a chronic disease of the small bile ducts (the channels that carry bile from the liver to the intestine). This autoimmune disease can mainly affect women between the ages of 40 and 60 and occurs when lymphocytes, the cells that defend the body against infections, mistakenly attack the bile duct cells and cause inflammation and inflammation. scarring.

Among the symptoms that can be found, swelling of the ankles and feet is one of the main symptoms, together with jaundice (yellowish color of the skin) and diarrhea.

Arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

The appearance of swelling at the ankle joint may be the sign of arthritis, or an inflammation of the joint itself, which may also have an autoimmune origin (rheumatoid arthritis). In addition to swelling, it has additional symptoms such as fatigue and limitation of movement. Over time, inflammation can lead to joint damage and become disabling.

Heart failure

When the heart cannot pump enough blood into the various organs, we are faced with heart failure. Compensation mechanisms, such as increased kidney water and sodium retention to increase blood volume, initially help the heart deal with fatigue, but over time can cause some symptoms, including edema (swelling) in the legs and ankles.

Kidney failure

The renal failure is a clinical condition in which the kidneys can no longer perform their function, namely the adjustment water-salt balance, the elimination of acids and slag from the body and the production of hormones. Among the symptoms of this disease, water retention is a major one.

Chronic venous insufficiency

This is one of the most common pathologies that can be traced back to the presence of swollen ankles and affects mainly older women. In people who suffer from it, the venous blood returns with difficulty to the heart, causing fatigue in the veins and an increase in blood pressure.

Varicose veins, thrombophlebitis and deep vein thrombosis

Problems related to the veins and the circulatory system could be the cause of the ankle swelling, as in the case of varicose veins, thrombophlebitis and deep vein thrombosis.

The presence of varicose veins is a very common disorder, which consists in the permanent dilation of the veins (called varicose veins). Among the main symptoms, there is also swelling of the ankle, along with aching legs and muscle cramps. The thrombophlebitis, instead, is an inflammation of the superficial vein wall, which can lead to clogging of the inner lumen due to a blood clot. The DVT is a very serious condition in which a thrombus (blood clot) blocks a vein can be a complication of varicose veins and in this case, the swelling usually occurs in one ankle accompanied by pain, red skin and sense of heaviness.


This pathology leads to a lymph stagnation in the tissues, caused by blockage or impairment of the lymphatic system. The limbs affected by lymphedema swell and the extent of the swelling depends on how compromised the lymphatic system is.

Drugs and hormonal alterations

Finally, there are some drugs that, among the side effects, can favor the appearance of water retention and ankle swelling, such as alpha-blockers (used to treat high blood pressure), calcium channel blockers and corticosteroids. Even hormone-based drugs, used for example in the case of thyroid diseases, as well as normal hormonal alterations due to physiological phenomena such as menopause or menstrual cycle, can lead to the appearance of water retention, since they interfere with the reabsorption of liquids.

Some prevention tips

As we have seen, there are many causes that can determine the appearance of ankle swelling: the first fundamental thing is to understand the origin of the problem through a specialist examination in order to be able to define the most effective treatment. Especially those who, due to work, are forced to spend many hours sitting at a desk, it is good that you practice a lot of physical activity and adopt a healthy diet, excluding salty foods, to limit water retention in the body. For patients suffering from chronic diseases, swelling can also be alleviated by using graduated compression stockings or through some specific therapies such as lymph drainage, to be agreed with your doctor.

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