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Swollen feet are a relatively common everyday phenomenon, especially in older people. Many complain of fluid accumulation in the feet every night. The symptoms often subside as soon as the feet are raised a little. Nevertheless, the health risk should not be underestimated, since the swelling can be due to serious illnesses.
The term “swollen feet” includes all swellings in the area below the ankle. These can affect the entire foot or only affect individual toes. Fat feet due to an increased body fat percentage are not classified as "swollen feet" because there is no acute swelling.
Symptoms of swollen feet
The symptoms of swollen feet are - depending on the cause of the discomfort - relatively variable. Some patients only notice increased fluid accumulation in the feet after standing for a long time, which decreases as soon as the feet are put up. Other sufferers have to deal with persistent swelling.
Often only the toes are affected, but the entire foot can also swell. Under certain circumstances, the swelling may even widen in the further course, so that those affected also complain about thick calves and swollen legs.
The symptoms can be completely painless or accompanied by pain in the foot area (for example foot pain, heel pain, foot pain), which in rare cases pull up to the leg. Occasionally, the ability to move is affected by the swelling. If this is massive, the skin can start to tighten and become rough.
The typical accompanying symptoms of the individual causes of swollen feet are then explained in connection with the respective diseases.
Causes of foot swelling
Various causes can be considered to trigger the swelling on the feet. These range from a general weakness of the cardiovascular system and vascular disorders to acute injuries, bruises, fractures and torn ligaments to chronic diseases or even cancer.
Vascular disorders that can be accompanied by swollen feet include varicose veins, weak veins and inflammation of the veins. Circulatory problems in the feet and the associated swelling may be caused by hardening of the arteries. In the event of restricted blood flow, the complaints are often accompanied by tingling in the legs and pain along the damaged blood vessels.
In the worst case, a blockage (thrombosis) of the blood vessels or a heart disease (for example coronary heart disease) as a trigger of the circulatory disorders is possible. Accompanying complaints can include chest pain or heart pain, rapid heartbeat and heart stumbling in heart diseases.
Swollen feet due to lymphatic drainage disorders
It is not only a backflow of blood that can cause swelling of the feet, but also an impairment of the lymphatic drainage is a possible trigger for the symptoms. So-called lymphedema forms, which usually cause a massive swelling of the toes. Then the swelling often passes to the foot, ankle, lower leg and possibly even the entire leg.
Diseases of the internal organs
Another possible cause is various diseases of the internal organs. In addition to the heart diseases, diseases of the kidneys, liver and thyroid play a special role here.
For example, hypothyroidism (hypothyroidism) comes into question, and so-called stasis liver, liver cancer and kidney infections are also associated with swollen feet.
As accompanying symptoms, non-specific complaints such as chronic fatigue, fever, headache, body aches, nausea and vomiting can be added to the organ complaints. Flank pain and severe stabbing pain in the kidney area and blood in the urine (hematuria) are quite clear symptoms of kidney disease.
Swelling in the feet due to metabolic disorders
If the swollen legs appear as chronic ailments, they may be based on a metabolic disorder. Diabetes is particularly often the cause of the symptoms. The so-called "diabetic foot" is a typical side effect of long-standing diabetes diseases, not least because excessive blood sugar permanently damages the vessels and nerves.
Today, however, the blood sugar level can be adjusted with the help of modern preparations and instruments so precisely that the phenomenon of diabetic foot slowly decreases. Nevertheless, this is still the most common reason for amputations in Germany.
Allergies, alcohol and medication
Suddenly accumulation of fluid in the legs may be due to an allergic reaction (e.g. to insect bites or the ingredients in shower gel or similar) or a food allergy.
In other cases, excessive water retention in the area of the foot and ankle can be a side effect of certain medications. These include, for example, cortisone-containing agents, hormone preparations (e.g. the pill) and calcium channel blockers. Anyone taking medication and frequently having swollen feet or legs should always contact their doctor.
In addition, regular and high consumption of alcohol can be the reason for the complaints. Because this causes the blood vessels to expand immediately after absorption, which favors swelling of the feet, ankles and hands. In addition, there is increased urine output and sweat production, especially when the alcohol is broken down again.
As part of a thorough medical history and a first scan of the affected foot, there are usually already clear indications as to whether an acute injury or a long-term illness is the trigger. Blood tests and imaging diagnostic methods such as sonography (ultrasound), computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are used to ensure the finding.
If in doubt, a tissue sample may be required if there is a suspicion of diseases of the internal organs or a malignant tumor. An allergy test provides information on possible allergies and the corresponding allergens.
Treatment for swollen feet
Treatment should always be based on the causes. In the short term, however, putting the feet up and cooling them can provide relief in most cases. Massages or lymphatic drainage should also contribute to the reduction of acute swelling.
If, for example, there is inflammation of the kidneys, problems with blood circulation or thyroid disorders, the underlying diseases are usually treated with medication. Swellings as a result of broken bones or ruptures first require immobilization with the help of a plaster cast or a splint. However, the injury sometimes does not heal properly, so surgery is required. The same may apply in the case of heart disease or cancer. The latter may also require the use of radiation and chemotherapy.
Naturopathic therapy for swollen feet is mainly based on manual treatments, for example in the field of osteopathy, chiropractic or Rolfing. According to their holistic approach, complaints in other parts of the body, such as neck tension, abdominal pain and back pain, are also taken into account. Because the overall statics and stress distribution of the organism play an important role in the context of manual treatment methods.
Herbal medicinal preparations offer another option in the context of natural treatment or to relieve symptoms. The ingredients of horse chestnut and stone clover are believed to have a positive effect.
If the swellings in the feet are the cause of liver diseases, it can help if those affected detoxify their liver. Hydrotherapy procedures often have a soothing effect on circulatory disorders. For Kneipp cures in your own bathroom, for example, treading water or cold and warm thighs are available.
- Thigh pouring begins with warm water (36 to 38 degrees)
- Guide the warm water jet slowly upwards on the right leg from the back of the foot to the groin
- Stay there until you feel well warmed up
- Then go down again just as slowly with the water jet on the inside of the leg
- Then the thigh is cast on the left leg
- Now the cold phase follows: Repeat the process with a maximum of 18 degrees of cold water, first on the right, then on the left leg
- Perform the upward and downward movement a little faster when cold pouring and stay on the bar for a maximum of 8 seconds
- The hot and cold treatment is repeated again
- Finally, pour both soles of your feet cold
Important: Be sure to discuss with your doctor in advance whether the application is suitable for you. Use a suitable bath mat to ensure that you stand safely in the shower or bathtub.
Alternatively, an alternating footbath can help promote blood circulation. For this purpose, two large tubs or bowls are filled with cold and warm water. First put both feet in the warm water for three minutes, then immediately in the cold water for one minute. Repeat this change a total of four times, finishing with the cold foot bath. Then you brush off your feet and warm up.
Epsom salt is a good home remedy for swollen feet. Place half a cup of this in a tub of warm water and dip your feet in the bath for about 15 minutes. An envelope with apple cider vinegar has also proven its worth. For this, first mix a cup of organic apple cider vinegar with a cup of water. Then a cotton cloth (e.g. dish towel) is soaked with the solution, wrung out and placed around the thick feet for about ten minutes.
Rejection procedures such as leech therapy can also be used directly against the swelling. Various homeopathic preparations can also be used for water retention in the feet. These include Convallaria (lily of the valley), Crataegus (hawthorn) and Hamamelis virginica (magic hazel).
From the area of the Schüssler salts, especially the salts No. 8 (sodium chloratum), No. 10 (sodium sulfuricum) and No. 13 (potassium arsenicosum) have proven to be effective against swollen feet. (fp, nr)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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