Copyright (c) 2010 Benjamin Marble
Some people have a problem with feet. They think feet are ugly, or ‘gross,’ or some other such nonsense. Now, every podiatrist knows that feet are one of the most interesting and beautiful parts of the human body. However, there are times when feet just don’t look the way they should. Sometimes feet have problems.
Swollen feet, for instance, aren’t exactly the pinnacle of natural beauty. Feet often swell because there’s something wrong in the foot itself, like an injury (such as a broken bone or a sprain), tumor, or infection. Or your foot may swell up after surgery. Swelling in these instances usually happens because the body is sending extra fluid to the area to promote healing.
Swelling in the feet can also be caused by conditions that affect your whole body, like hypertension (high blood pressure), heart failure, problems with your lymphatic system (lymphedema), simply getting older, or being overweight or pregnant.
Other causes include swelling from varicose veins, menstrual periods, or simply standing or sitting for a long period of time. Basically, any time excess fluid gathers or settles in the feet, it’s going to cause swelling. Feet are particularly susceptible because they’re such a long way from the heart, and blood has to fight against gravity to make its way back up there.
Swelling may be accompanied by other symptoms, or none at all. If swelling is from an injury, you’re also likely to have pain in the area, and the injured part of your foot may be warm to the touch with reddened skin. If you have an infection in your foot, you may have a fever or warmth in the foot as well.
Hypertension is a bit more subtle, since it doesn’t really have any overt symptoms (aside from swollen feet, of course, although you may not even have that symptom). So it’s a good idea to have your blood pressure checked regularly at any appointment with your doctor, which should reveal if your blood pressure is higher than normal.
Varicose veins may look like bunches of grapes, cords, or rope-like structures under your skin. Your legs may also feel achy, heavy and tired. Sometimes people with varicose veins also develop an itchy rash or even ulcers on the skin.
Lymphedema’s main symptom is actually chronic swelling in your entire leg (or arm), including your toes or fingers. It usually happens in just one leg or arm, but can occur in both at the same time. Your affected leg will also probably feel heavy, tight, achy, may be harder to move around, and may have thick and hard skin. Legs affected by lymphedema also tend to develop infections more easily.
Getting a complete medical history and thorough information about your symptoms is essential for a diagnosis of your condition. Your podiatrist will need to check with you about where exactly you’re experiencing swelling (is it just in your foot or is your leg swollen as well, for example), whether it comes and goes during certain times of the day (morning versus evening), whether anything makes it better or worse, and any other symptoms you may be experiencing.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam of your feet, and may check on your lungs, heart, abdomen and legs as well. X-rays (or other imaging studies), blood tests, ECGs, and urinalysis may be some of the tests used to diagnose your condition.
Treating your swollen appendages really depends on what’s causing the swelling. Sometimes home treatments can help. Elevating your feet above your heart while lying down can reduce swelling, as can support or compression stockings, exercising the legs, and reducing your salt intake. If your swelling is from an injury, the RICE method may be effective: Rest, Ice (20 minutes on over a thin towel, 40 minutes off), Compression and Elevation.
Medications may be prescribed, such as diuretics (which help the body get rid of excess fluid), or other medications specific to your condition, such as hypertension medicines or antibiotics to fight infections. Sometimes surgery is necessary to correct the cause of your swelling feet.
Some conditions that cause swollen feet may be life-long. But, with proper treatment and regular visits to your podiatrist, there’s no reason why your feet can’t be just as beautiful and interesting as they were before.