Swollen legs feet and ankles are caused by water retention. When your circulation has problems working against the effects of gravity, your blood collects in the lower part of your body. The extra pressure on your blood vessels makes them leak fluid into the tissues of your legs feet and ankles. This causes swelling, and your skin can become very discoloured; in severe cases your skin may even weep fluid. Large veins on the surface can become swollen and painful – a condition known as varicose veins.
The technical name for this condition is ‘chronic venous insufficiency’ (CVI) but not all swollen legs are caused by CVI. Get your legs checked by a doctor just in case you have a heart or kidney problem, which can also cause water retention in legs feet and ankles. Swollen legs are also common in pregnancy and are caused by the pressure of the baby on the veins in the pelvis.
Another condition which can cause swollen legs (as well as swelling in other parts of the body) is idiopathic cyclic edema (ICE). ICE occurs mostly in young women after sitting or standing for a long time. Idiopathic simply means “of unknown cause”.
The best treatment for swollen legs feet and ankles due to a heart or kidney problem is diuretic medicines. These will normally be prescribed by your doctor. If your heart and kidneys have a clean bill of health, then be very wary of taking diuretics. With both CVI and ICE, the fluid that leaks from blood vessels into the tissues carries protein with it. This protein sits in the tissues, drawing water out of your blood. If you take diuretics, you will also urinate more, leaving your blood dehydrated. Your body will adapt by producing hormones which slow down urination, and this aggravates water retention and makes the swelling worse.
“I haven’t seen my legs this small in a long time”
Exercise is important to prevent swollen legs, and your doctor has probably already recommended wearing support or compression stockings. But what is not so widely known is that CVI and ICE can often respond very well to eating the right foods. There are many foods which can help to strengthen the blood vessels in the legs and start to break down the proteins which have leaked into your tissues. Avoiding certain foods can also reduce levels of histamine in your body. Histamine tends to increase the ‘leakiness’ of blood vessels and to aggravate water retention.
Based on these principles, British naturopathic nutritionist Linda Lazarides has written a book which can help you fix these causes of water retention. The book outlines a plan which takes 2-3 months and has had many good reports. Find out more here.