After a long day up on your feet or a long flight, you may notice that your ankles, legs and feet start to swell. This is called edema.
For the most part, this swelling is completely normal, but can also be a sign of a more serious medical condition (1).
It can cause some discomfort and embarrassment, especially if the swelling is visible to those around you.
What Is Edema?
Edema is swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body’s tissues. It’s quite common in the extremities, especially in the legs and feet (2).
Common symptoms include (2):
- Swelling or puffiness of the tissue directly under your skin
• Stretched or shiny skin
• Skin that retains a dimple after being pressed for several seconds
• Increased abdominal size
Edema is often caused by pregnancy, injury, infection, medication, hormones, obesity, arthritis, lymphedema (blocked lymph channel), venous insufficiency, blood clots and heart, liver, or kidney disease (3).
How To Treat It On The Spot:
1. R-I-C-E Method
One of the quickest ways to relieve swelling is the RICE method (4).
Rest your legs: In the case of edema, it’s beneficial to lie down on your back since sitting up may cause some blood vessel constriction around your waist and knees. Be sure to remove your shoes too.
Ice: A cold compress will help constrict your blood vessels and get blood to flow back to your heart. However, be mindful not to apply it for more than 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
Compression: Wrapping your feet or ankles in a bandage or slipping on a compression sock can help reduce swelling and gently squeeze blood up your leg (5).
Elevate: While lying down, elevate your feet with a pillow or chair to encourage your blood to flow back towards your torso.
If you start to feel your lower extremities swell, gently massage the affected area to release accumulated fluid in your tissue and cells and promote blood flow.
How To Avoid Edema:
1. Cut Back On The Salt
Your body tries to maintain a sodium/water concentration outside cell walls that’s approximately the same as sea water (6).
When you consume too much sodium, your body holds on to water to maintain the right ratio. This is called fluid retention and can cause your body to swell.
2. Avoid High-Sugar Foods
Excessive insulin can causes fluid and sodium retention, especially in type 2 diabetics. Over time, it can lead to high blood pressure and congestive heart failure (7).
3. Drink more water
In some cases, dehydration can actually cause edema. When you aren’t getting enough water, your body tries to push too much water back into your cells, causing them to swell (8). In serious cases, it can even occur in your brain and cause permanent damage.
To stay hydrated, try to drink 7-10 tall glasses of water a day.
4. Try Diuretics
Eating natural diuretic vegetables can help release fluid build-up in your body tissue (9).
These foods include asparagus, parsley, beets, grapes, green beans, leafy greens, pineapple, pumpkin, onion, leeks, and garlic.
Garlic also contains allicin, which is a vasodilator, meaning that it can dilate blood vessels and promote blood flow (10).
5. Get More Magnesium
Magnesium helps to alleviate fluid retention in menstruating women (11). It can also relieve muscles cramps that may accompany edema (12).
Exercises causes muscles contractions, which constrict and dilate blood vessels and bring blood back to the heart. It also help move along lymph, preventing it from pooling into your extremities.
If you spend most of the day standing or sitting down, flex and extend your ankles and knees throughout the day. It’s also important to avoid crossing your legs as your sit (13).
If your edema persists or if it’s accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath and headaches, talk to your doctor.