Swollen feet and ankles can be a problem as you get older, and it's normal for your shoes to feel tight or your ankles to look puffy at the end of a long day. The swelling is usually temporary - it can help to put your feet up, allowing the pooled fluid to find its way out - but there are certain things that can make the problem worse. Here's what you can do to avoid it, and how to help the swelling go down.
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You're eating too much salt
Salt helps to retain water, and eating too much can cause swollen ankles. Try to cut back how much salt you eat – don't add it to your food or switch to a low-sodium option, like Low Salt. Also keep an eye on how much you're consuming in processed foods, like ready meals and soups. Health experts recommend eating no more than 6g of salt a day. Check labels on food, which should have a green/amber/red warning to give you an idea.
Drinking more water and eating potassium-rich foods such as bananas and spinach may help, as they act as a diuretic and so will help counteract the effects of salt.
When your feet and ankles are puffy it sounds counter-intuitive to increase your fluid intake, but drinking more water will help your body to mobilise fluids and reduce swelling. Thirst is a sign that you are already dehydrated, so try to sip water throughout the day. It can help to keep a bottle of water near you, or drink a pint of water before each meal.
You've been sitting for too long
It's not just sitting on an aeroplane for hours that can cause swollen legs and ankles. Sitting on a long car, bus or train journey, or just staying in your armchair can have the same effect.
Not moving for long periods of time causes fluid to pool in the legs, so get up and move around at regular intervals. Be sure to break up long car journeys with rest stops and have a walk around, and stretch and walk on a plane whenever the seatbelt signs is switched off. Wearing compression stockings or socks can help by preventing blood from pooling in your lower legs and feet.
You've been standing for too long
Standing still for long periods of time can be just as bad as sitting. In fact, standing makes the blood pool to your feet and lower legs due to gravity and can make matters worse. So while you need to get up from your chair, don't just stand there – be sure to walk about.
You're too hot
You're more likely to suffer with puffy ankles and feet on a hot day. That's because your blood vessels dilate allowing more blood to go to the surface of your skin in order to cool down. A consequence of this is that you're more likely to get swollen feet. Stay out of the heat if you can, use a fan in the home, take a cool shower or put your feet in a foot spa or bowl of cool water.
Lose some weight
Your heart has to work that much harder to pump blood around your body when you're overweight. If you regularly suffer with swollen legs and ankles, losing weight and taking regular exercise is likely to help. As well as doing regular low-impact exercise, such as walking or swimming, try putting your feet up three or four times a day to improve your circulation and avoid standing or sitting still for too long.
Review your medication
If you're taking medication, it's worth checking the side effects and speaking to your GP. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), drugs taken for blood pressure and some antidepressants can cause swollen ankles.
Could you have an underlying health condition?
If you're concerned about long-term or painful swelling in your legs, see your GP. Oedema (swelling) can be a symptom of an underlying health problem or caused by certain medications, such as corticosteroids or medicine for high blood pressure.
Swelling can be a sign of more serious illnesses, including kidney disease, heart failure, chronic lung disease, thyroid and liver disease. Swelling in the legs can also be caused by a blood clot, severe varicose veins or a leg injury or leg surgery. There's also a condition known as lymphoedema, where a blockage in the lymphatic drainage system causes the legs to swell. This long-term condition can cause discomfort, pain and a loss of mobility.