Swollen ankles, feet and legs (oedema)Overview

Swelling in the ankles, feet or legs often goes away on its own. See a GP if it doesn't get better in a few days.

Common causes of swollen ankles, feet and legs

Swelling in the ankles, feet and legs is often caused by a build-up of fluid in these areas, called oedema.

Oedema is usually caused by:

  • standing or sitting in the same position for too long
  • eating too much salty food
  • being overweight
  • being pregnant – read about swollen ankles, feet and fingers in pregnancy
  • taking certain medicines – such as some blood pressure medicines, contraceptive pills, antidepressants or steroids

Oedema can also be caused by:

Check if you have oedema

Symptoms of oedema include:

How to ease swelling yourself

Swelling should go away on its own, but there are some things you can try to help.

Do

  • lie down and use pillows to raise the swollen area when you can
  • get some gentle exercise, like walking, to improve your blood flow
  • wear wide comfortable shoes with a low heel and soft sole
  • wash, dry and moisturise your feet to avoid infections

Don't

  • do not stand or sit for long periods of time
  • do not wear clothes, socks or shoes that are too tight

See a GP if your ankle, foot or leg is swollen and:

  • it hasn't improved after treating it at home for a few days
  • it gets worse

Ask for an urgent appointment if:

  • the swelling is only in 1 ankle, foot or leg and there's no obvious cause, such as an injury
  • the swelling is severe, painful or starts very suddenly
  • the swollen area is red or feels hot to the touch
  • your temperature is very high, or you feel hot and shivery
  • you have diabetes

Call 999 if:

  • you feel short of breath or are struggling to breathe
  • your chest feels tight, heavy or painful

You could have a blood clot in your lungs, which needs immediate treatment in hospital.

Treatment for swelling and oedema

Treatment for swelling or oedema that doesn't go away on its own will depend on the cause.

It may include lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or going on a low salt diet.

Page last reviewed: 13/11/2018
Next review due: 13/11/2021