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Managing Swollen Feet and Ankles in the Elderly

Article by Daniel Westhead Daniel Westhead Sure Safe Alarms

Swollen feet and ankles can be uncomfortable. Unfortunately, they’re quite common in the elderly – for numerous reasons.

One tricky thing about swollen ankles or feet is that the causes of the swelling can range in seriousness. Sometimes, swollen feet are nothing to worry about, while at other times they can be a medical emergency.

So, what are the causes of swollen feet and ankles in the elderly? And what should you do if you’re an older person having trouble with swelling in the ankle or foot?

In this post, we’ll explore all the ins and outs of this condition faced by many older people.

When to be concerned about swollen feet and ankles

Firstly, let’s discuss when swollen feet and ankles are a sign of an urgent medical problem.

According to the NHS, you need an urgent GP appointment for the following symptoms …

  • Feet and ankles that are visibly reddened or hot to the touch can be signs of a serious infection such as cellulitis. So can a very high body temperature or a feeling of the shivers.
  • Unexplained swelling in just one foot or ankle can be a sign of a dangerous blood clot in the leg, called deep-vein thrombosis.
  • Intense swelling and pain, or swollen feet or ankles in elderly people with diabetes can also indicate serious conditions that require a doctor’s attention.

Moreover, you should dial 999 if you notice these symptoms together with oedema …

  • Tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, or coughing up blood. These can indicate a blood clot in the lungs.

Many cases of swollen feet and legs in the elderly are due to less urgent conditions, although you should still ask your doctor if you are concerned. They might diagnose you with one of the below conditions.

Causes of swollen legs and feet in the elderly

Swelling in the legs and feet occurs because of excessive fluid in the tissue. Sometimes, an older person’s legs and feet are swollen just for a brief time. But when the swelling is long-term, the condition is referred to as oedema.

Chronic venous insufficiency is when the veins simply struggle to push blood back up to the heart, causing oedema. It occurs when valves in the veins don’t effectively keep the blood going upward. This can occur due to lifestyle factors such as high blood pressure, lack of exercise, being overweight, or smoking.

Heart failure is a somewhat similar issue producing oedema. The root cause of the swelling is, again, that blood is not effectively returning from the legs up to the heart. The difference between this condition and chronic venous insufficiency is that the problem isn’t with the veins, but with the heart. In heart failure, the heart is unable to effectively pump blood upwards.

Sprains or a twisted ankle can be a cause of swelling that should resolve on its own.

Side effects of medications are a common problem in the elderly, and swelling is one issue they can cause.

Arthritis in the ankle or foot can cause swelling around the joints.

A heavy salt intake can cause the body to retain more water and swell.

A sting or bite from an insect can cause a reaction that produces swelling.

Liver or kidney disease can also cause swelling in the body.

Simply sitting for too long may cause swollen feet or ankles.

Lastly, we’ve already mentioned that blood clots and infections are potential causes of foot and ankle swelling.

Treating swollen feet and ankles

Naturally, the treatment for swelling or oedema will differ depending on its cause.

When oedema occurs in an older person who is overweight, doctors will likely recommend that the person loses weight. Exercising, quitting smoking and avoiding high salt intake are likely a good idea for any senior, and they can help with oedema too.

Simply elevating the feet can help drain the fluid away too.

Sometimes, diuretics are prescribed for older people with swollen legs and feet. These are medications that force your body to let go of some fluid it’s been retaining. However, NICE argues that diuretics, which can have their own side effects, are prescribed too often when they are not absolutely needed.

Compression stockings are another common solution for swollen feet or ankles, particularly those due to vein or heart problems. They are essentially a tight sock that squeezes your foot and leg to force fluid upward and stop it from gathering in your lower extremities. Note that ordinary tight socks are not the same thing! In fact, overly tight garments can be a cause of swollen feet or legs.

For swollen ankles due to a sprain, the NHS recommends the PRICE treatment:

  • Protection, such as a support for sprains that you can buy at the chemist
  • Rest
  • Ice – each 2-3 hours, use an ice pack for 20 minutes (Note: don’t put ice directly against your skin).
  • Compression
  • Elevation

There are many other possible treatments for other causes of swelling. For example, antibiotics could be given for an infection.

Coping with swollen feet and ankles

When an older person has chronically swollen feet and ankles, it’s important for them to find socks and shoes that don’t constrict or harm their feet. This is particularly true for diabetic seniors because people with diabetes can lose feeling in their feet, so they may not even notice that their feet are injured.

Socks, slippers and shoes that allow more room for swollen feet are typically described as “extra wide.” “Diabetic-friendly” products are also usually extra wide and designed not to rub in a way that could be damaging.

If you’re looking for this type of product, Fitville is a UK shoe retailer that provides a lot of options for wide feet and people with diabetes.

Extra protection for seniors with swollen feet and ankles

Regardless of its cause, swelling in the feet or ankles can make mobility a little trickier for seniors. That’s because it can make the ankles and feet feel stiff and heavy. Of course, in some cases pain is also an issue.

Whenever an older person has difficulties with walking, it’s a concern because there’s increased risk of a fall. Falls are especially dangerous to seniors, and they’re even more dangerous if the older person ends up lying on the floor for a long time.

Fortunately, a personal alarm for the elderly provides great protection against just this scenario. Fall detection functionality ensures that if an older person falls, even if they’re unconscious, help will be called. It works through sensors in the alarm that can detect the fall.

One-touch buttons are also a great feature to help keep seniors safe. With an alarm that has one-touch functionality, older people just need to touch a single button to call for help. That’s crucial if an older person is experiencing a medical crisis related to swelling and needs to get assistance fast.

You can get these functions and many more from personal alarms through SureSafe, a UK leader in personal alarms that’s rated an impressive 4.8 out of 5 stars on Trustpilot. If you’d like more info about how our alarms can help seniors with leg and ankle swelling, just give us a call on 0808 189 1671. Alternatively, you can reach out through our live chat or simply request a call back.

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