Light swelling in the body can be a normal occurrence and usually fails to produce any red flags or warning signs. But excessive fluid retention; especially in the ankles, can be indicative of dangerous heart conditions. In fact, most cases of ankle swelling are associated with a type of heart disease known as congestive heart failure, which the American Heart Association reports affects 5.7 million Americans.
What Exactly Is Ankle Swelling?
According to Revolution Health, ankle swelling is also referred to as pedal edema. The condition is denoted by an excessive amount of fluid buildup in the tissue that surrounds the ankles and feet. Ankle swelling that is associated with heart disease also creates a condition known as pitting edema that causes impressions to be left on the skin when pressure is applied to the swollen area.
Why Do the Ankles Swell?
Ankle swelling is caused by heart failure that is occurring on the right side of the heart. Unlike the swelling on the left side of the heart that causes fluid to drain into the lungs, congestive heart failure that occurs on the right side sends fluid to the legs, feet and ankles. According to Quest Diagnostics, the excess fluid enters these areas through the veins that extend from the heart.
Heart Disease Medications
There are some heart disease medications that can cause swelling to ankles that are otherwise not experiencing any type of edema. For instance, Health Central explains that certain blood pressure-lowering medications known as calcium channel blockers can cause an abnormal increase of fluid in the ankle area.
Elevation plays an important role in helping to relieve the painful and uncomfortable symptoms that are associated with swollen ankles. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts recommends keeping swollen ankles elevated above the heart. This can be done by using a pile of pillows or a wedge. Wearing support stockings and removing salt from the diet is also helpful. Exercising the legs should also be considered if possible because it helps to deliver the fluid back in the direction of the heart.
Sometimes a physician will prescribe a medication known as a loop diuretic to relieve the extra fluid buildup in the body. In the book Cardiovascular Therapeutics: A Companion to Braunwald's Heart Disease, author Elliott M. Antman explains that loop diuretics help to relive the body of sodium which can lead to fluid retention. But loop diuretics do have some drawbacks, including electrolyte depletion. Electrolyte depletion is always a concern and supplemental forms of electrolytes must be given during diuretic treatment.