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Swollen ankles, feet and legs (oedema)

Swelling in the ankles, feet or legs often goes away on its own. See a GP if it does not 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
  • taking certain medicines – such as some blood pressure medicines, contraceptive pills, hormone therapy, antidepressants or steroids

Oedema can also be caused by:

Check if you have oedema

Symptoms of oedema include:

Swollen ankles in someone with white skin. Both ankles look bigger than usual.
Swollen or puffy ankles, feet or legs.
A swollen foot in someone with white skin, where the skin on top of the foot looks tight, stretched, smooth and slightly red.
Shiny or stretched skin.
A swollen ankle in someone with black skin. The ankle looks bigger than usual and is a darker colour than the skin surrounding it.
Changes in skin colour, discomfort, stiffness and dents when you press on the skin.

How to ease swelling yourself

Swelling in your ankles, feet or legs should go away on its own, but there are some things you can try to help.

Do

  • raise your legs or the swollen area on a chair or pillows 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

Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:

1 or both of your ankles, foot or legs are swollen and:

  • it has not improved after treating it at home for a few days
  • it gets worse
Information:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

  • you have swelling 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 and your feet, ankles or legs are swollen

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Immediate action required: Call 999 if:

  • you feel short of breath or are struggling to breathe
  • your chest feels tight, heavy or painful
  • you're coughing up blood

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 does not go away on its own will depend on the cause. Your GP can help you with the right treatment.

Speak to your GP about making, lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or going on a low-salt diet.

Page last reviewed: 18 January 2022
Next review due: 18 January 2025