Swelling of the foot, ankle and leg is called peripheral edema and can be caused by a number of disorders. However, peripheral edema can also be a natural part of the aging process. As we age, prolonged sitting and standing can prevent circulation of fluids and cause buildup in the lower extremities. And in women, it can also be brought on by menstrual periods or pregnancy.
However, while your peripheral edema might be a natural occurrence, there are also serious ailments that cause swelling in the lower extremities, and you should consult your doctor before writing off swelling in your feet, ankles and legs as 'nothing to worry about'.
Before looking into other underlying causes for your foot, ankle and leg swelling, take an inventory of the medications that you are taking. Certain medications like hormone replacements, blood pressure medications (calcium channel blockers), steroids and anti-depressants (MAO Inhibitors) can cause swelling in the lower extremities.
While peripheral edema can be a harmless sign of aging, it can also be a sign of a more serious health problem. Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet can be a sign of congestive heart, liver or kidney failure.
In kidney failure, swelling in the lower extremities can be accompanied by symptoms like a metallic taste in the mouth, fatigue, bruising easily and decreased sensation in the hands and feet. In liver failure, swelling is often seen in conjunction with jaundice and abdominal pain. However, heart and other organ failure can often occur suddenly and the swelling of your feet, ankles and legs may be your only symptom.
Foot, ankle and leg swelling can also be caused by venous insufficiency. When your veins are weak or blocked, they may be unable to pump blood from your lower extremities all the way back to your heart. For those with venous insufficiency, the swelling they experience is caused by pooled blood in the legs ankles and feet. This swelling is often accompanied by skin color changes, ulcers, thickened skin and pain or pressure that worsens when you sit, stand or raise your legs.