I recently read that Meghan Markle – now the Duchess of Sussex – usually wears her shoes a size too big. According to one fashion expert, celebs sometimes go up a size or two when they wear heels for a long period of time to avoid swollen feet.
Reportedly, one “trick-of-the-trade is to stuff the toe with padding like tissue or cotton wool, and this can be taken out once they feel they need a bit more room in their shoes.”
But swelling in the feet, ankles and legs – also known as edema or water retention – is also a common problem among us boomers. While many of us may already avoid high heels, we still have to be concerned about swollen feet and ankles.
When we consider that the normal water content in our bodies is between 45 and 55 percent, it’s not at all surprising that this water sometimes pools where it shouldn’t.
As with other aspects of getting older, gravity is not our friend here either since it makes the swelling more noticeable in our lower extremities than it would be, for instance, in our hands.
The Many Causes of Swelling
While there are many things that can make our feet and ankles swell, all of them can be put in to one of three categories.
The first are things that we do every day – many of which we do without much awareness:
- Sitting or standing too long with or without changing positions.
- Long airplane, or car rides, especially, if we can’t or don’t stretch every now and then.
- Lack of exercise – getting up to walk to the fridge while watching television doesn’t count.
- Hot, humid weather.
- Footwear, including socks, that are too tight.
- Eating too much salty food or adding too much salt to our food.
- Not getting enough nutrients because of poor eating habits.
Second, there are more than 1,000 different medications that can cause swelling or worsen any swelling we may already have. Some of the more common ones are:
- Calcium channel blockers, such as verapamil and felodipine, used to treat high blood pressure.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen.
- Some diabetes medications such as thiazolidines (for example, Avandia or Actos).
- Antidepressants, including MAO inhibitors and tricyclics.
- Steroids used to treat a variety of inflammatory conditions.
- Hormones such as those in Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
- Narcotics such as those in pain medications.
- Chemotherapy medications.
Third, various physical conditions and diseases can also cause or make swelling worse. At last count, there were over 100, including:
- Heart, liver or kidney problems
- Poor circulation in your lower extremities
- Burns (even sun burn if it is severe enough)
- Extracellular water
- Insect bites
What We Can Do When We Have Swelling
Independent of what is causing our swelling, there are things we can to reduce it and make ourselves more comfortable. These include:
- Exercising our legs by taking a walk, doing some stretches or knee bends.
- Putting our legs up on a pillow or ottoman.
- Getting a few pairs of support stockings – and wearing them!
- Checking to see how much salt we are eating (read the sodium content of foods) and try to stay below 1,500 mg of sodium a day.
- Getting up and moving around on a plane, or at least doing some isometric exercises, which are usually described in the inflight magazine.
- Losing weight if we need to.
- Trying not to wear tight, constricting socks, pants or shoes.
- Talking with our doctor or pharmacist about any medications we are taking that may cause swelling.
- Drinking plenty of water – though it sounds counterintuitive, staying hydrated actually reduces water retention and swelling.
While knowing how to treat our swelling is important, it’s even more important to try to get to its root cause so that we can take steps to prevent it rather than just treating its symptoms.
A good first step is talking with our doctor about having our mineral and other nutrient levels checked since any imbalance could trigger or exacerbate water retention and swelling.
Visit Our Doctor
We should also make an appointment to see our doctor as soon as possible if:
- Our swelling is getting worse or is not going away after trying home remedies.
- We are running a temperature, or the swollen areas are red and warm when we touch them.
- We have heart, kidney or liver disease and we start to have swelling.
Go to the ER
And if we have any of the following symptoms, we should get immediate medical attention at the nearest emergency room:
- Swelling in only one leg
- Dizziness, confusion or feeling faint or lightheaded
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain, pressure or tightness in our chest area
While swelling is something most of us need to contend with as boomers, there is a lot we can do to minimize its impact on the quality of our lives. But just remember that while most swelling may be a minor annoyance, it also can signal other health issues. So be sure to get medical help when indicated.
What is your experience with swollen ankles? How often do you have them? What home remedies have worked for you and which haven’t? Have you ever spoken with your health care provider about it? What did they say? Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.