Most people will experience swollen ankles at some point in their lives. There are many reasons for swollen ankles. Ankles may swell from simply standing in place for too long or from being on one's feet for too long. They may be the result of serious conditions such as heart disease. Swollen ankles can also result from injuries such as sprains, breaks and torn ligaments. See a physician if swelling accompanies pain or bruising, or if swollen ankles don't go away on their own.
The reasons for swollen ankles generally fall into three categories: injuries, chronic disease and temporary conditions. Each cause determines the most effective course of treatment for symptom relief. Injuries can be treated promptly and heal with time. Chronic disease should be managed under a doctor's supervision. And temporary conditions, such as pregnancy or standing on the feet too long, resolve on their own with time.
Swollen ankles caused by injuries are fairly easy to spot. Soon after twisting an ankle, falling, or receiving a blow to the ankle bone, pain begins. The ankle may immediately swell. Skin may turn black and blue. It's important to remove anything restrictive around the ankle, such as a shoe, boot or sock, and to see a physician for diagnosis and treatment. Elevate the affected ankle and apply ice. Wrap the ice in a towel or place it in a plastic bag instead of applying ice directly to the skin. Depending on the nature of the injury, a doctor may recommend a cast, soft cast, bandage or continued treatment with ice and elevation.
Many medical conditions may cause swollen ankles. Some are temporary, while others are more serious. Many pregnant women experience swollen ankles due to the increased fluid volume in the body, increased weight from the baby and hormonal changes. Many diseases can cause swollen ankles. These include congestive heart failure and heart disease. The heart can no longer pump effectively, and fluid pools near the ankles. Gout, arthritis, kidney disease and liver disease may also cause swollen ankles. There are other more rare causes, too.
To prevent swollen ankles, it's helpful to limit sodium (salt) intake. Salt increases water retention. Women should avoid birth control pills since these can exacerbate swelling. Wearing support stockings and elevating the feet while sleeping and sitting can also help. If standing on the feet too long causes swollen ankles, try alternating standing with sitting or at least shifting position several times an hour.
While swollen ankles caused by an injury go away after the injury heals, swelling caused by disease or problems doesn't go away on its own. Anytime swollen ankles become chronic, they signal a problem and necessitate a visit to the doctor. Swollen ankles may seem like a mere inconvenience, but they can be part of a cluster of symptoms pointing toward an underlying medical condition that can threaten one's health.