Help – My ankles are puffy!

The sun’s out, the weather’s heating up and those white legs are back on display. But what if you notice they are a bit puffy too?! Something to be worried about?

Puffy or swollen ankles generally means that the circulation is a bit sluggish so fluid can escape more readily from vessels and pool in the legs. Why would this happen? Serious medical problems that can cause is are rare – like a weak heart that means the blood isn’t pumping round as well as it should, liver or kidney disease, or pressure in the pelvis affecting veins or lymph vessels and partially blocking the return of fluid (many of us may have experienced that same effect from pregnancy!). Thrombosis (blood clot) causing blockages within veins can also cause leg swelling – usually just on one side. The same goes for injury or infection. Swelling can also be a side effect of some drugs or related to hormonal problems.

But much more commonly, our legs can swell just because we have been sat or standing still for too long which reduces the circulation in our legs. If we have varicose veins or faulty valves in our legs, it makes it more likely that our legs will get puffy. So does heat and high altitude (think of those aeroplane flights to hot holiday destinations).

If puffiness is sudden, worsening or causing pain, itching or other concerns then see your GP who can check for anything serious. He or she can also make sure it’s not related to any medication you are taking and check for varicose veins. Also, see your GP or midwife with any sudden increase in puffiness of face, feet or hands in pregnancy as this can signify pre-eclampsia – a serious condition that needs urgent assessment. Pregnancy also carries an increased risk of blood clots in the leg – so be aware.

If your job entails a lot of sitting or standing, try to keep your calf muscle ‘pump’ working with leg exercises such as rotating your feet or standing up and down on tiptoe – and walk around as much as you can. Keeping your legs elevated with ankles higher than hips whenever you are sitting can help too. Compression tights or stockings like those sold for plane travel are readily available and invaluable. Otherwise, general lifestyle measures can improve ankle swelling no end. These include maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet full of fresh, unprocessed food and low in salt, and making sure you keep active. Not only will you help your ankles – you’ll benefit from lots more besides.