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What Causes Swollen Feet in the Elderly?

Have you been noticing unusual swelling in your feet lately, or those of an elderly loved one? Swollen ankles in elderly patients, also called “peripheral edema,” is very common among older adults, affecting around 19-20% of the aging population.

While swollen feet in the elderly can often be innocuous, there are situations where it might be a symptom of a serious underlying health issue.

For that reason, it is always wise to investigate new, unexpected or persistent swelling of the feet. This post will go over some common causes of swollen feet in the elderly to help you identify what might be going on.

What Causes Swollen Feet in Seniors

Causes of swollen feet or ankles among older adults may be medical or environmental. Once you figure out the cause, you may be able to take steps to reduce the edema.

Common Medical Conditions Leading to Swollen Feet

Some common causes of swelling in the feet of older adults include chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), congestive heart failure (CHF), liver disease, kidney disease, and lymphedema. Learn more about them below.

  • Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI): Sometimes, swelling in the lower leg is an early sign of a condition called chronic venous insufficiency. In this condition, the vein valves in the legs do not do their job correctly, and blood has a hard time returning to the heart. Because this may be the first symptom of CVI, it is important to take any case of swollen feet seriously, even in the absence of other symptoms.
  • Congestive heart failure (CHF): Sometimes during congestive heart failure, we see swelling in the feet and ankles. The heart has lost its ability to effectively pump blood, so it builds up in the lower extremities. 
  • Liver disease: During liver disease, fluids can leak and build up where they do not belong. As a result, swelling may develop in the ankles and feet, the hands, the face, and the abdomen.
  • Lymphedema: In lymphedema, the lymph system is not working correctly. As a result, fluids start building up in soft tissues in the body. This disease can also lead to swelling in the limbs, including in the feet and ankles.

Do not forget that there may be other health conditions that might also cause swelling in the feet and ankles. To rule out everything of concern, you should talk to a doctor.

Environmental Factors

While swelling in the feet of elderly patients is cause for concern, it is not necessarily a reason to panic. Sometimes, swollen feet in aging patients might simply be the result of environmental factors, many of which are relatively innocuous.

  • Prolonged standing or sitting: Leg and ankle swelling have been reported with prolonged standing. It can also happen when sitting for a long time without breaks. See if moving around more often throughout the day alleviates the swelling.
  • Tight-shoes: Although compression stockings can be helpful for foot swelling, the same does not apply to tight shoes. Your choice of footwear can impact how much swelling is in your feet or ankles.
  • Excessive salt intake: If one eats a lot of salt, it can lead to fluid retention increasing. That is why eating a large amount of salt may sometimes cause feet to swell. Make sure that you are getting a balanced, healthy amount of salt in your daily diet.
  • Dehydration: Not getting enough water is sometimes the culprit with swollen feet. The blood vessels constrict during dehydration. As a result, more fluid is retained in the feet, causing swelling.
  • Hot weather: Do you notice your feet swelling more often in the summer? A study in 2016 confirmed that this is indeed the season when ankle swelling is most frequently reported. So, sometimes, it might just be that the weather is hot. Note that it is also easy to get dehydrated in these conditions.

When to Seek Medical Attention

In many cases, swollen feet will resolve on their own with minor lifestyle adjustments or simply by waiting. But if symptoms get worse or do not go away, it is wise to see a doctor. You also should talk to your doctor if you experience additional symptoms such as fever, difficulty breathing, or chest pain.

You know your body best, and the same is true for elderly loved ones who may be experiencing swollen ankles or feet. If you or your loved one feels a doctor’s appointment is important, then you should go. Trust your instincts. Your doctor can help you rule out anything serious and give you peace of mind.

Managing Swollen Feet

There are simple but effective measures you can take at home to help alleviate swelling in the feet or ankles. These include lifestyle modifications and home remedies.

Woman putting lotion on her feet

Lifestyle Modifications

Here are some ways you can adjust your lifestyle to reduce or prevent swollen feet.

  • Elevate the legs: When you raise your legs up, you can use gravity to your advantage instead of it working against you. Try propping your feet up on a chair across from you instead of leaving them to rest on the ground.
  • Move around: If one has been sitting or standing for a long time in one position, just getting up to move around can help prevent swelling in the feet.
  • Exercise regularly: Another way to prevent fluid build-up is to get regular exercise. Be sure to choose gentle exercises that are safe and comfortable for seniors to perform.
  • Wear the right shoes: Avoiding tight shoes may help to prevent swelling in the feet. We will discuss footwear in more detail shortly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and diet: According to this study, people who are severely obese have a 33% likelihood of developing swelling that presents similarly to lymphedema. So, losing weight with a balanced diet may be one way to bring foot swelling down.
  • Manage chronic conditions: If the older adult with foot swelling has a contributing underlying condition, taking steps to appropriately treat or manage that condition may reduce the swelling and other symptoms.

Home Remedies and Supportive Tools

Below, we go over a few additional things that may help with treating foot or ankle swelling.

Man wearing compression socks

  • Compression stockings or wraps: It may sound counterintuitive, but compression around the feet and ankles can bring swelling down. Think about wearing compression wraps or stockings.
  • Topical pain relievers: If your edema is causing you pain, you can try applying a topical treatment such as Lidocaine.
  • Massage therapy: To try and bring swelling down, you can attempt a light massage known as “manual lymph drainage.” More research is required, but some patients report anecdotal success. You can try to do the massage yourself, or you can see a massage therapist who is trained in the technique.

How Shoes Can Impact Swollen Feet

As we have discussed, wearing the wrong footwear could worsen swelling in the ankles or feet for older adults. So, what types of shoes should you wear?

Our suggestion is the Cadense Original Adaptive Shoe for men and women. These shoes fit comfortably, provide plenty of support, and absorb shock effectively. They also feature unique soles engineered with adaptive friction technology. As such, they facilitate natural movement across all sorts of terrain.

As Cadense shoes offer a comfortable fit, they will not contribute to edema. Moreover, they can help prevent injuries while walking, reducing the chances of inflammation that would contribute to swelling.

These shoes have a stylish aesthetic as well, making a fashionable option for people of all ages.

FAQs

Let’s answer a few frequently asked questions about swollen feet and ankles in the elderly to wrap up this guide.

Can lifestyle factors contribute to swollen ankles in seniors?

Yes, lifestyle factors can contribute to swollen ankles or feet in seniors. For example, if a person spends too much time sitting in one position without getting up to move around, that could increase swelling in the feet.

Do compression stockings help with swollen ankles in the elderly?

Yes, research shows that wearing compression stockings may help to reduce swelling in the lower body.

What kind of shoes are best for seniors with swollen ankles?

Try wearing the Cadense Original Adaptive Shoe for men and women for swollen ankles.

Can swollen ankles in the elderly be prevented?

It may be possible to prevent swelling in the ankles in older adults by making some lifestyle adjustments (i.e. not sitting or standing in one position for too long). Preventing or managing certain health conditions could also help to mitigate swollen ankles and feet.

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