Should I Worry About Swollen Ankles?

Reviewed on 1/26/2022
An elderly woman's swollen right ankle
Swollen ankles can be a serious concern if it is accompanied by symptoms such as trauma, has not improved after treating at home for a few days, swelling worsens, it is severe, it is red or hot to the touch, and more. It is also serious if you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or are pregnant.

Ankle swelling can be a common symptom of many different conditions, ranging from injury and infection, to blood clots and heart disease

It is important to see a doctor to determine the cause of and treatment for swollen ankles. See a doctor if you have swollen ankles and: 

  • Swelling occurred following a trauma such as a fall or motor vehicle accident
  • Swelling has not improved after a few days of home treatment 
  • Swelling worsens
  • Swelling is only in one ankle, foot, or leg and there's no obvious cause, such as an injury
  • Swelling is severe
  • Swelling is painful
  • Swelling starts very suddenly
  • Swollen area is red or feels hot to the touch
  • Swelling is accompanied by a fever, or feeling hot and shivery
  • You have diabetes
  • You have a history of heart disease
  • You have a history of kidney disease
  • You are pregnant and swelling has appeared suddenly or existing swelling has gotten worse
  • Swelling occurs with chest pain or shortness of breath 
    • This could be a sign of heart failure, which is a medical emergency  
    • Call 911 and get to a hospital’s emergency department (do not drive yourself)

What Causes Swollen Ankles?

Causes of swollen ankles include: 

How Do You Get Rid of Swollen Ankles?

Treatment for swollen ankles depends on the cause. 

Swollen ankles due to standing or sitting in the same position for too long will generally go away on its own once you start moving again. 

Treatment for swollen ankles due to eating too much salty food will go away on its own. Limiting or avoiding salty foods can help prevent swelling. 

Treatment for swollen ankles due to being overweight involves diet and exercise to lose weight.

Swollen ankles due to an insect bite or sting can be relieved with ice or a cold compress applied to the area and raising the feet. 

Treatment for swollen ankles due to foot or ankle injury includes:

  • RICE method
    • Rest 
    • Ice 
    • Compression wrap the foot or ankle 
    • Elevate the foot 
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain
  • Range of motion exercises (depending on the type of injury)
  • Splints and braces
  • Surgery

Treatment for swollen ankles due to arthritis and other autoimmune conditions depends on the condition and may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Steroids
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

Treatment for swollen ankles due to infection depends on the type of infection and may include:

  • Sores due to diabetic neuropathy and other nerve problems 
  • Ingrown toenail
    • Lifting the nail (may done at home)
    • Partially removing the nail or removing the nail and tissue in more severe cases
  • Athlete’s foot
    • Antifungal cream/lotion/gel

Treatment for swollen ankles due to venous insufficiency includes:

  • Elevating the legs above heart level for 30 minutes three or four times per day 
  • Foot and ankle exercises 
  • Compression therapy 
    • Compression stockings 
    • Intermittent pneumatic compression pumps 
    • Compression bandages 
  • Medications 

Treatment for swollen ankles due to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) includes:

  • Anticoagulants
  • Thrombolytic therapy, in severe cases
  • Inferior vena cava (IVC) filter 

Treatment for swollen ankles due to lymphedema includes:

  • Skin care
  • Weight management
  • Physiotherapy
  • Compression therapy (i.e., compression bandaging, compression garments)
  • Surgery, for severe cases

Treatment for swollen ankles due to heart, liver, or kidney disease includes:

  • Treating the underlying condition
  • Reducing the amount of salt (sodium) in the diet
  • Diuretics to eliminate excess fluid
  • Compression stockings

Treatment for swollen ankles due to pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia includes:

  • The only treatment is delivery
  • If preeclampsia occurs before term, there is an attempt to delay delivery to 37 weeks 

Treatment for swollen ankles due to medication side effects includes:

  • Stopping or switching medications
  • Changing the dosage
  • Never stop taking a prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor

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Reviewed on 1/26/2022
Image Source: iStock Images