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Swollen Feet? What You Need To Know…

Your feet will go on changing all of your life and, in fact, you can expect to gain a half shoe size every ten years after you turn 40.  Sometimes, however, we experience an abrupt change–most of us have tried to squeeze our feet into the comfortable shoes that we loved so much the day before and found that they have suddenly become too tight.  Swollen feet happens.

There are many reasons for swollen feet.  Often it is a simple matter of hydration.  Your circulatory system and lymph system are constantly pumping blood and lymphatic fluid into and out of your feet and sometimes, particularly at the end of a long day of standing, gravity wins and the fluid stays down in your lower extremities.  If the swelling is just occasional and if it gets better on its own there is nothing to worry about.  If, however, it becomes more frequent, lasts longer than usual, is only in one leg, or is accompanied by shortness of breath then it’s time to go to your doctor for answers.

Best-case scenario, your podiatrist suggest that you prop your feet up on a pillow at the end of the day, and maybe invest in a pair of good compression socks.  Another relatively quick fix is to look at your sodium intake—too much salt can cause your body to retain water. Become a label reader and limit yourself to 2,000 to 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day.  You might also be experiencing the side effect of a recent weight gain (including a pregnancy!) and if you sit a lot, the extra weight pressing on your groin area could be interfering with the lymphatic flow.  You may be able to solve the problem just by standing up and moving around regularly—and even better, work towards losing those extra pounds.

If simple fluid retention is not the culprit, you might be dealing with inflammation, perhaps from tendonitis or even a fracture. The build-up of fluids is actually part of the healing process, but if the swelling is painful you should stay off your feet as much as you can and take anti-inflammatory medicines.  Other common inflammatory foot conditions include gout, a build-up of uric acid that will cause joints—particularly the joint in your big toe—to swell.  Gout can generally be treated with medications and a change in diet.

Before your doctor makes a final diagnosis of your swollen feet they will ask you about your prescriptions and particularly if you have made any recent changes.  Oral contraceptives, steroids, some blood pressure medications, and some diabetes medications can cause you to retain water.  If there is nothing on your medication list that would explain the swelling your doctor will look at some more serious potential causes.  If the swelling came on suddenly and is only in one leg there’s a possibility that you might have a blood clot deep in your tissue, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT.  If an ultrasound confirms that the swelling is due to a blood clot your doctor will put you on blood thinners immediately to keep the clot from traveling and doing more damage.

The doctor will also ask other questions about your medical history. Sometimes it is not about your feet at all.  The swelling could be the early warning signs of heart, liver, or kidney disease—another reason to have your doctor check you out.  If you have recently had radiation therapy or if your lymph nodes have been removed, the swelling in your feet might be lymphedema, a condition that occurs when the normal movement of lymphatic fluids is blocked for some reason.  Lymphedema can be successfully treated with exercise and compression.  Another possibility is venous insufficiency, a condition in which the valves in your veins have become weakened or damaged and no longer do a good job of getting your blood back up to your heart.  Once again exercise—particularly walking—compression, and elevation are all important parts of your treatment.

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