What are the causes of red swollen calves and ankles?

Updated November 21, 2016

Older people frequently experience pain, swelling and redness in their ankles, calves and feet, although this condition can strike younger individuals as well. When there is a build-up of excessive fluids in the ankle and legs, this can result in peripheral oedema, or swelling.


When swelling occurs it can be very painful. One or both of your feet and calves can swell. You may even notice swelling in your thighs. Gravity causes swelling to be especially prominent in the lower part of your body. When swelling occurs in your ankles and calves, or elsewhere, your skin may turn red. The arteries contract and dilation follows. The capillaries are flushed with blood, causing the redness.


Swollen feet and calves can be an indication of liver, heart or kidney failure. These conditions result in fluid build-up in the body. Other conditions that result in swelling include blockage of the lymph nodes in your legs, which is considered a lymphatic obstruction; a blood clot; venous insufficiency, which means that your leg veins are no longer capable of properly pumping blood back to you heart; insect bites or stings, burns; varicose veins; an infection in your legs; or malnutrition or starvation, according to the website "Healthline."


Pregnancy can cause your ankles and calves to swell, according to the Mayo Clinic. As the baby gets bigger there is more and more pressure against the veins that return blood from your legs and feet and this results in swelling. When your feet and calves swell you may feel a sensation of numbness or tingling.


The medication that you are taking may cause you to become swollen. Antidepressants, including tricyclics and MAO inhibitors, can result in swelling, as can blood-pressure medications, steroids and medicine that contains the hormone oestrogen, such as birth-control pills or hormone replacement therapy medication. Testosterone can cause swelling.


If you injured your foot or ankle, swelling may result. Some women experience fluid build-up and swelling right before their menstrual periods. Other factors that can cause swelling include being in a car or aeroplane for a long time, standing for too long, being overweight and age. If you are getting too much sodium in your diet, this can result in swelling, according to Dr. Robert Danoff, director of the Family Practice Residency at Frankfort Hospitals, Jefferson Health System in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Treatment for swelling may consist of taking a diuretics (water pills) or wearing support stockings, depending on what is causing your swelling, which must be determined by your physician.

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About the Author

Cindi Pearce is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She completed both the undergraduate and graduate courses offered by the Institute of Children’s Literature. Pearce has been writing professionally for over 30 years.