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Are Swollen Feet a Warning Sign?

18 answers | Last updated: Apr 06, 2015
An anonymous caregiver asked...
My father's feet have become very swollen in recent months, and it's uncomfortable for him and worries me. Are swollen feet in an older adult normal or some kind of warning sign?

Caring.com User - Jane Andersen, DPM
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Jane Andersen, DPM, is a board-certified podiatrist in private practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She provides surgical and nonsurgical foot and ankle...
96% helpful

Your father should discuss his condition with his doctor, but it's not an automatic cause for alarm. Although swollen feet aren't a normal part of aging, swelling does happen more See also:
18 Things Your Feet Say About Your Health
commonly among older adults. Because swelling (edema) can have many causes, it's sometimes a warning sign of a problem -- but not always.

Dangerous causes of edema can include the following:

  • Heart, liver, or kidney disease

  • Cellulitis (a skin infection)

  • Chronic venous insufficiency (when leg veins are unable to pump enough blood back to your heart)

  • Deep venous thrombosis (a blood clot that forms deep in the body)

  • Charcot neuroarthropathy (or Charcot's neuroarthropathy; a progressive condition of the bones and joints of the foot that's characterized initially by inflammation)

Other possible causes include medication side effects or a chronic condition of the lymphatic system known as lymphedema, in which lymph fluid fails to drain properly from the legs and causes abnormal swelling. Behaviors as simple as sitting too long or eating a lot of salty foods can cause swelling, as well.

Caregivers or patients should seek medical attention for edema when:

  • There's a change, such as an increase in the swelling in one or both legs.

  • Swelling is accompanied by redness (in one area or overall).

  • Swelling is accompanied by pain.


More Answers
37% helpful
C_from_DC answered...

I wish I had read this answer a year ago. Around that time, my mom complained of swollen feet and calves. The swelling was significant, so I took her to an urgent care center because she was only visiting me and her doctor was across the country. The doctor who saw her said it was nothing, that she should watch her salt intake, and she prescribed edema socks. We felt reassured.

Six months later, my mom was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. It was too large to operate. She passed away a month a half ago, on July 16th.

I don't want to scare anyone, because swollen feet can be a very benign thing, but I now know that for my mom it was an early sign of a type of cancer that has no other symptoms. If we had caught it then, she could have had the surgery and perhaps she would still be with me.

Please take care.


36% helpful
Karenmtk answered...

Just a further note about lymphedema, which I suffer with in one foot from two old infections from my youth, is that it can worsen during the warmer months. I have lessened my salt intake, wear good supportive shoes, and elevate my foot whenever possible on my Redema Ottoman Footrest, which can go with me anywhere, including when traveling. I do keep an eye on my edema, but I have found a pattern of my foot swelling regularly during warmer times of the year.


33% helpful
octoman answered...

MY wife has swollen feet and legs It is caused by water retention,which is caused other things.lymphatic glands ,ect She sleeps with raised legs and takes water tablets,which have reduced the swellings drastically .


51% helpful
Dr4evry1 answered...

Dr Jane Anderson DPM provided an excellent answer. I like to add one more point to that answer. Besides lymphedema, there is one more condition aka Filarial Elephantiasis,the swelling may occur in one leg or both legs and it starts from feet to ankle to the entire leg and it is very common in third world countries and particularily in ASIA as I have come across many patients.



49% helpful
calalillie answered...

Very, very interesting; noone noted that usage of ibuprofen can also lead to swelling in feet, ankles and calves. This seems to be particular to people "of a certain age".

It is very important to review medications and age relationships, and be protective.


36% helpful
CareGiverSon answered...

Chronic corticosteroid use (prednisone and others) can also lead to edema in lower extremeties, as well as a host of other undesired effects. Always consider medications when looking for causes of new onset signs.


36% helpful
apriljh59 answered...

I was having recurrent edema of my lower legs and feet. My father is a physician and asked if I was exercising. I wasn't, so I got on my bike and started riding a couple of miles a day and BAM! The swelling comes back when I stop exercising.


21% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

Edema: ALCOHOL posioning is a absolute warning sign of over abuse. May not happen at first, but eventually the demon catches up and will show it's ugly warning sign...surprised no Dr. stated this..


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Trevor23 answered...

My son is only 15, about a year and a half ago his right leg started swelling. Now it is twice the size of his left. Would be glad to post pictures if I could. He has seen many Dr.s in the last year, while living with his father. They have run plenty of test MRI, Ultrasounds, etc. and still have not come up with any answers or solutions. Only that his leg needs to be messaged several times a week by a theropist and he has to wear a message boot that covers his entire leg for 20 mins 3 times a day. He has been doing this now for almost a month with NO improvements! As of last week my son is living with me, we will be going to a new Dr in Ft. Worth, TX I hope they can tell us what is going on with his leg. Any suggestion?


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CHIMAYA52 answered...

I came down with another sinus infection, this time I stayed in bed for four days getting up very little. I slept and read. Well my feet are swollen alot every day, they hurt and are fat (i am not). I did drink tons of water, quit wine (2 glasses daily) and quit salt almost totally. It was scarey and wonderful my feet don't look like me feet. They are boney and don't hurt; unbelievable. I have been up and about one day and some of the swelling I can see coming back. But I am standing alot as usual or sitting. I BELIEVE GOING OFF SALT, AND RESTING IN BED (ELEVATION) HELPED ME. HOPE THIS HELPS SOMEONE. IT WAS SIMPLE.


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elainerenew answered...

Swollen feet definitely requires attention as it may be indicative of poor blood circulation in feet. Especially as age catches up, valves in veins weaken, resulting in backflow of blood that causes blood to accumulate in legs/feet, instead of returning to heart. This is usually accompanied by rise in blood pressure. In such cases, you can use a graduated compression sock to help boost blood circulation in legs and feet. However, do exercise caution in choosing the right brand of compression socks to ensure right amount of pressure. Excessive pressure can cause much discomfort while too little pressure has little or minimal effect on helping to boost blood circulation in legs/feet \and alleviate swelling of feet. For instance, I have been consistently wearing the same brand of graduated compression socks for the past 10 years.


38% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

Swollen feet is very common these days and can be caused by a number of things. It is definitely recommended that your dad sees his GP just to find out the root cause of his swollen feet. My nan suffered from the same thing and she found it quite hard to get shoes to fit her. If your dad is having that same issue I found a really good wide fitting shoes store. They specialise in swollen feet and could probably give your dad a lot of comfort. www.widerfitshoes.co.uk It isn't nice when you can't find shoes to fit you!


42% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

I have been dealing with very swollen feet and legs for 7 years now. I am now 38 years old. When I noticed the swelling, I saw my doctor and she immediately put me on a diuretic and it did help the swelling and I have been on this medicine up until about 3 months ago and I simply got tired of taking it. So, I have been simply dealing with the edema in my feet and legs. It would swell so bad it felt like my legs weight 100 lbs. The edema was so bad it would pit when I pushed it from the feet all the way up to my knees. I noticed that exercise helped SOME but it would come back. I noticed dieting helped some but it always remained. My wife and I booked a cruise for the end of June, and I am embarassed with the terrible swelling/pitting in my legs and feet I made it my mission to figure it out without my doctors help as to what is wrong with me. SO, since it seems that the swelling goes down the most when I dont eat much, I decided to fast (go without eating) all day Friday and for the first 12 hours on Saturday. THE SWELLING WAS 95% GONE! Then I decided to eat a meal with my family consisting of pulled bbq pork on wheat bread and cheetoes and a rootbeer. Low and behold, within 1 hour of eating just that small amount of food, my swelling came back with a vengence! I mean it got so bad that at my cousins graduation, i had to loosen my shoe strings because the swelling was hurting. So the next day on our grocery shopping trip, I decided to buy food that didnt contain gluten or wheat, just based on my fasting experiment i just figured i would start with that. Well, after one day....ONE DAY, of eating normally, minus wheat & gluten (flour, etc) my swelling tremendously went down after only less than 24 hours. I was worried it was a fluke, so the next day I ate some pringles, which had wheat in it and within 1 hour, my feet and legs swelled up quit a bit. So since then, i have avoided wheat/gluten like the plague and it has been 4 days now and for the first time in 7 years my edema is completely gone....literally 100% gone. It is strange to look down and see my ankles and the veins in my feet. The only problem is that now my shoes are too big for me. It is still so hard to believe that it was that simple of a solution. I also feel like i have alot more energy and my mood seems better. I am also now wearing my sandles and shorts in public because I am not embarassed anymore. I am by no means saying that this will be the cure for you, but if you havent tried it, I say give it a go and see what happens. If works like it did with me, you will notice a big difference in less than 24 hours. I am just so happy to have finally figured this out, I felt the need to share my findings with others. I never read anywhere on the internet about wheat/gluten being an issue with swelling, but now (after the fact) i have found a wealth of info on the internet regarding people with the same issue and wheat/gluten being the culprit. So, like I said just give it a try if you haven't yet. I am anxious to know if it works for you too...so please let me know if it does!


28% helpful
Tara khan answered...

Certainly one should rule out medication as one of the possible cause for the appearance of any new symptom or sign.One benign cause of foot oedaema is Amlodopine a Calcium Channel Blocker so frequently used for hypertension.Dr Tahira Khalid


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Paz2u answered...

I think the expert answer is excellent with the list of things that swollen feet could be attributed to. We begged for help for our mothers swollen feet and no one did anything. It was unfortunately too late when we discovered she had Extensive Deep Vein Thrombosis and it went to her lungs she died 9 days later.