How Edema Is Formed | Edema Or Swelling Causes

Edema is the medical term for swelling and there are many potential reasons to have edema or swelling of the foot and/or ankle.

  1. Injury - Injury to the foot or ankle is the most common reason that I see swelling to the foot or ankle. Examples of injuries that cause swelling are broken bones, ankle or foot sprains or tendon injuries, either tendon tears or ruptures.

  2. Venous insufficiency - Valves in the veins of our legs are what keep the blood from collecting in the lower leg and sometimes these valves can become weakened or damaged which will results in a collection of fluid in the ankles and feet. Chronic insufficiency can lead to skin changes, ulcers or infections. I recommend compression socks to initially help with this problem.

  3. Blood clots - Also referred to as deep venous thrombosis (DVT) can occur for many reasons. DVTs can sometimes cause swelling and pain to the lower leg and are potentially life threatening if the blood clot breaks off and travels to the lungs. This is referred to as a pulmonary embolism or PE and needs immediate medical attention.

  4. Heart failure - A heart that is not functioning as well as it should will cause fluid to back up in the leg veins resulting in swelling or edema of the lower legs.

  5. Liver disease - There are forms of liver disease that lead to low levels of a protein called albumin, which is made in the liver. When albumin is low this will cause fluid in the blood to pass into the tissues producing swelling not only in the legs but other parts of the body as well.

  6. Lymphedema - Our lymphatic system is designed to help clear excess fluid from tissue and to help trap and destroy unwanted substances such as bacteria. If this system becomes damaged for any reason, lymphatic fluid can back up causing swelling or edema of the legs and feet.

  7. Medication side effects - The most common culprits are high blood pressure medications, NSAIDS, steroids and estrogen. Swelling or edema of the lower extremity can be a sign of a serious medical condition and should always be evaluated by your podiatrist or primary physician,

Written by
Dr. Jeffrey S. Hurless
DPM, FACFAS Board Certified Foot & Ankle Surgeon/Podiatrist
Medical Director,