How are swollen feet and ankles diagnosed and treated?

How are swollen feet and ankles diagnosed and treated?

Which kind of doctor will treat swollen feet and ankles?

If you experience mild swelling, this generally tends to resolve without the need for treatment, however, more severe and chronic swelling of the foot/feet and ankle/s will require medical attention. The first medical professional you are likely to see is your general practitioner. When a more serious underlying cause is identified or suspected, then you may be referred to a specialist in one of the following fields:

  • Internal medicine (physician)
  • Orthopaedics
  • Sports medicine
  • Cardiology
  • Infectious diseases

How are swollen feet and ankles diagnosed?

Your doctor will generally conduct a physical exam of the swollen area to diagnose you. He or she may also ask a few questions to gain insight into what might be causing the swelling. You will need to provide your doctor with a list of any medications you are currently taking, any conditions you have recently been diagnosed with and any other factors regarding your medical history that he or she may require.

Once your doctor has determined the cause of the swelling, a treatment plan will be designed. In the majority of cases, a simple physical observation and a verbal description of your symptoms and signs are sufficient to diagnose the underlying cause.

Some examples of this type of scenario include:

  • An ankle that is swollen as a result of you ‘twisting it’ when stepping wrong or during physical activity is typically due to a sprain.
  • If you are diabetic and swelling of your foot is accompanied by warm, reddish skin and/or if there is a visible cut or sore present, then this is likely to be the result of an infection developing from the cut or sore.
  • If you are a cardiac patient (i.e. have a heart condition) and have not been taking the prescribed diuretics (medication that works by encouraging water excretion via the kidneys in the form of urine), then the swelling of both the feet or ankles (bilateral swelling) is typically a result of a combination of several factors, these include dependent oedema, decreased cardiac (heart) function and poor fluid management capabilities of the body.

It is unlikely that your doctor will perform any laboratory tests to diagnose your condition, however, he or she may order some tests in rare cases if the cause is not evident or if the swelling is severe. Some cases may require X-rays to be conducted for fractures to be detected, whereas MRI’s (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scans may help to aid in revealing any cause for tissue damage present in the case of kidney or liver damage. A doctor may even get a tissue sample (called a biopsy) of the affected organ to get a more definite diagnosis from the lab.

Treatment for swollen feet and ankles

Your doctor will decide on the course of treatment for swollen feet and ankles depending on their cause. If you are unable to find relief through elevating your legs for a few hours, you may need antibiotics if you have an infection, a wrap or splint if you have a sprain or injury or you may need to adjust your medications if drugs are causing the swelling as a side effect. Each underlying cause will have a unique treatment.

Are there home remedies that aid in soothing the symptoms of swollen feet and ankles?

There are a number of tips that you can use to aid in reducing some of your symptoms at home, these include:

  • Elevating your feet on pillows so as to raise them above your chest, or heart when lying down.
  • Gently exercising your legs aids in circulation and helps pump fluid from the legs back to your heart.
  • Following a low-sodium (salt) diet as this may help in reducing swelling and fluid accumulation (as salt retains more water).
  • Wearing support stockings which can be found at the majority of pharmacies/drug stores.
  • Taking breaks by standing up or walking around when travelling in planes or cars. When driving it helps to stop when you can and stretch your legs.
  • Avoiding tight-fitting garters or clothes around your legs as these restrict blood flow and may result in fluid accumulation.
  • Losing weight if necessary, as being overweight may promote fluid accumulation as more pressure is put on your joints and more fluid is held in the body as a result of a greater body mass.
  • Stopping smoking and/or drinking alcohol as these can prevent the healing of the underlying causes of swelling.

If you believe that certain medications are causing the swelling, then it is not advised that you change or stop taking these before first consulting with your doctor.

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