Are Swollen Feet a Warning Sign?

22 answers | Last updated: Feb 10, 2016
A fellow 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?


Expert Answers

Jane Andersen, DPM, is a board-certified podiatrist in private practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She provides surgical and nonsurgical foot and ankle care to all types of patients, including the geriatric population in her area. With the American Podiatric Medical Association, she has worked to educate the public on foot and ankle health.

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 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.


Community Answers

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.


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.


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 .


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.

Dr.P.R.Prabhu


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.


Oldfarmerf@aim.com answered...

My 26 yr. old son had severe leg and foot swelling. He was taking water pills for mos. Finally he realized his blood sugar was high (he's type 1 diabetic) When he got that under control the swelling disappeared!


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.


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.


A fellow 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..


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?


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.


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.


A fellow 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!


A fellow 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!


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


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.


Amylove answered...

maybe she migth just have a poor blood circulation ,or a goot but if i was her i'll go see the doctor imediatly


Krisewan answered...

For the anonymous caregiver post who ate pulled pork. My sister was just diagnosed with Celiacs disease. It is an extreme allergy to gluten. Her her was literally falling out and she was having all types of health problems.


Kiristie answered...

I have swelling in my feet (both) I'M only 40 yrs. It started about a month ago with just pain. I went and had xray done and dr. said I had spurs in the bottom of my feet. Got some pills and it took pain away for about a week. then this last weekend I drove for about 10 hours in the car and my feet were so very swollen I could not walk. I propped them up but swelling never went away. Then two days later I drove 12 hours back home .My feet and ankles are the size of a two liter bottle of pop. And hurts so bad.. I have been home now for three days no change.. This has never happen before. I'm not a dietabetic . But this was common with the women in my family , all of them had this. Any ideas on what would cause this? But they all got it in their late 60's.


A fellow caregiver answered...

This is happening to me, albeit not quite as dramatic as some posters on this message board. I've been waking up with swelling in the bottom of my feet (or foot, sometimes), and sometimes my one toe is swollen as well. It usually goes away after an hour or so of walking around. The thing that gets me is, I'm not an elder yet (early 40's), I exercise, I don't eat ANY processed foods, I'm not allergic to anything, I eat a great diet also, and the only salt I eat is unrefined sea salt (non processed crappy salt that has ingredients added to it to keep it from clumping). I am also not on any medications. The only difference in my health that has been apparent to me lately is that I'm getting more times during the day where my heart feels like it'll stop or 'pause', and it'll keep doing that for awhile, then it'll start up again (when that happens I feel like my breathing has paused as well, it's kinda weird), and after that happens, I notice I get those splinter hemorrhages in one of my fingernails (usually my pinkie or thumb). Other than that I'm fine. Probably nothing at all, which is why I don't bother to go see anyone about it, since it seems that even though people who have seriously bad symptoms can't find any solutions via their MD's anyway. Any idea of what this is, or has anyone else had this happen?


A fellow caregiver answered...

I'm not a doctor, but I have had to deal with a lot of medical issues during my 24 years of life. I've had hyerthyroidism (Graves Disease), I have had a seizure that was a result of spots on an MRI in my brain. We are waiting to see if I develop any new symptoms. They are suggestive that it may be Multiple Sclerosis. I have high blood pressure, I have an anxiety problem and a panic disorder. I also have an irregular heart beat. Now I am going to the doctor Thursday to see what Else could possibly be wrong with me. I am having problems with my feet and ankles swelling really bad. I am also have swelling in my fingers as well. I am drinking more water, eating healthier, propping my feet up, and getting up every hour at work for a minute or two to keep my blood pumping. It has become bothersome and now my wedding rings are almost too little to wear with my swollen hands. I am not sure on your swelling symptoms, but I know you do need to go get checked out. If you are on here and are asking others about their stories and advice, then it is worrying you. The heart stopping and the out of breath thing is what happened to me when they found out I had an irregular heartbeat. They will do an EKG test on you and monitor your heart rythym. If you have a problem, they will put you on something that will regulate your heartbeat. Your blood pressure may be dropping too low. My advice it is nothing to play around with and to go get checked.