Oedema of the Feet and Ankles
Expert medical care to maintain health, support your heart’s function and safeguard your future
Oedema is the build-up of fluid in the body’s tissues making them puffy and swollen. Oedema can affect any part of the body, but because gravity makes fluid fall downwards, the feet and ankles are most frequently affected.
Occasional swelling in the feet or legs can be a normal response to heat, injury or pregnancy. However, oedema can also be a sign of serious disease. If your swelling is not settling, the expert physicians at London Medical can provide comprehensive assessment and care for oedema. The clinic offers the latest cutting-edge investigations to identify any health problems so that treatment can be targeted to stop the swelling.
What is oedema?
Oedema is the collection of watery fluid in the body’s tissues. It comes from the Greek word for swelling, and the condition is characterised by swelling in the ankles, feet, legs and elsewhere in the body.
Oedema in the feet and ankles can happen in people who are generally well. Being overweight, eating too much salty food, staying in the same position for prolonged periods, constrictive clothing and pregnancy can all trigger swelling in feet, ankles and fingers. Oedema can also develop as a result of:
- Heart failure: When the heart isn’t working properly, blood backs-up in the body. Fluid passes into the lungs and body tissues, causing breathlessness and progressive swelling in the feet and ankles.
- Accident or injury causing a strain or sprain.
- A reaction to an insect bite or sting.
- An infection.
- Lymphoedema, which is an abnormal collection of lymph fluid.
- Problems with the kidneys or liver.
- A DVT: A potentially serious blood clot in the deep blood vessels of the leg.
- Medications including blood pressure tablets, contraceptive pills, antidepressants and steroids.
Symptoms of oedema
Oedema doesn’t just cause swelling, it can also cause discomfort, stiffness and skin problems. Symptoms include swelling of the feet, ankles or legs; shiny, stretched skin; skin redness and stiffness and discomfort in the feet and ankles.
Most oedema should settle if you rest and put your feet up for a short time. If you’re worried about swelling that hasn’t settled, make an appointment with your GP or the physicians at London Medical for expert assessment and advice.
When oedema is an emergency
Some swelling cannot wait for a routine appointment and investigations. You should call 111 or contact London Medical for urgent care if you develop sudden oedema and:
- The swelling is on one side only, especially if there has been no history of injury.
- The swelling develops suddenly.
- The swelling is painful and severe.
- The foot or ankle is red or feels hot.
- Your temperature is raised or you feel feverish, shivery and unwell.
- You have diabetes.
A DVT can cause a clot to lodge in the lung. A pulmonary embolism is a medical emergency and should also be treated urgently in the hospital. Call 999 if you have leg swelling and:
- Chest pain feels heavy, tight or worse on breathing in
- Coughing up blood.
Investigation of oedema at London Medical
To diagnose the cause of your oedema, your specialist physician will carefully assess your medical history, check your symptoms and perform a detailed physical examination.
London Medical’s state-of-the-art clinic offers the latest investigative procedures for patients with oedema. Some of the UK’s most renowned specialists provide expert assessment and treatment, supported by a team of dedicated nurses, ultrasound specialists, and physiology technicians.
The tests will depend on your history and the findings of the examination; however, they could include:
- ECG recording.
- Chest X-Ray.
- Echocardiography: This is a type of ultrasound scan that looks at the function of the heart and checks for heart failure.
- Blood screening tests to check liver and kidney function and identify chronic disease.
Specialist D-dimer blood test to detect blood clot from a DVT.
- Doppler ultrasound scan can detect the speed of blood flow through the blood vessels in the leg and identify of there may be a clot. If this is inconclusive a venogram may be performed to visualise the deep veins in the leg.
Treatment for swelling and oedema at London Medical
London Medical’s consultants are experts in the diagnosis and management of oedema. They will develop a bespoke treatment plan to ease discomfort, maintain wellbeing and improve your quality of life. The treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your oedema but could include:
Lifestyle changes: Stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol and exercising regularly can all help with oedema. London Medical offers expert support from many different specialities, all under one roof. Whether you need advice on safe exercise or support with giving up smoking, London Medical can help.
Dietary support: Getting to a healthy BMI, eating a balanced diet and reducing salt can all improve symptoms.
Medication: Depending on the cause of your oedema, a combination of medicines can be prescribed to help control swelling, improve the function of your heart and optimise your health. These could include Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers, beta-blockers, and diuretics or water tablets to decrease fluid congestion.
From your consultation, through treatment and follow-up, London Medical will be there to support you physically, mentally and emotionally, every step of the way. Our expert multidisciplinary team will help educate you about your condition and will always involve you in decisions about your treatment and care.
Frequently Asked Questions
The term heart failure is frightening but it doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped working, it may just need a helping hand to function.
There are many reasons for developing heart failure, some of the most common include:
- Coronary heart disease-causing angina or heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Cardiomyopathy, which is a group of diseases affecting the heart muscle
- Heart rhythm abnormalities including atrial fibrillation
- Heart valve problems
- Congenital heart disease
- Heavy drinking
- Overactive thyroid
- Pulmonary hypertension is a condition that raises the pressure in the lungs
Dr George Amin-Youssef
Heart failure, valve and coronary artery disease, echo cardiograph. Exercise and stress echocardiography.
Professor Carlo Di Mario
Director Structural Interventional Cardiology University of Florence & Honorary Consultant Cardiologist Royal Brompton Hospital London
Dr Fadi Jouhra
Consultant Cardiologist in Heart Failure and Complex Devices at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
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