Shoes feeling a little snug and footsies looking puffy? Swollen feet can be totally harmless, but it can also be a symptom of a pretty serious health condition.

What causes swollen feet?

Generally, feet swell for one of these reasons:

  • Excess salt or alcohol consumption can make you retain water. This extra fluid in your body can then collect in your feet, causing swelling.
  • Inflammation from injury or infection increases blood flow and leads to swelling.
  • A number of health conditions lead to extra fluid in your body, like pregnancy, malfunctioning lymph nodes, and kidney disease.
  • Circulation conditions like a blood clot, malfunctioning valves, or heart failure can lead to fluid getting stuck in your feet and legs.
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Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common explanations for swollen feet and how to treat them.

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When to get to the ER STAT!

If you have any of these symptoms along with swelling, go to the emergency room or call 911 ASAP:

  • chest pain, pressure, or tightness
  • difficulty breathing
  • sudden swelling of your hands and face if you are pregnant
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1. That devil edema

Edema is a medical term for swelling caused by fluid. Feet and legs are the parts of your body most often affected by edema. Edema can be caused by eating too much salt, or it can be a symptom of many other conditions from heart failure to pregnancy. We will discuss some of those conditions below.

With edema, you may also experience:

  • discomfort and limited range of motion
  • depressions (“pitting”) in your skin when you press on it
  • tight skin

2. Baby (and fluids) on board

Swollen feet are a common symptom of pregnancy and not usually a cause for concern. As your belly grows, so does the total amount of blood and fluid in your body. Swelling is more likely to occur at the end of the day if you are on your feet a lot.

3. Clamp down on preeclampsia

If you are pregnant and have sudden swelling in your hands and face contact your doctor ASAP. This is a symptom of preeclampsia, a dangerous condition that can occur in the last half of pregnancy.

With preeclampsia, your blood pressure rises, and you have protein in your urine. Other symptoms of preeclampsia include:

Call the midwife (or your doc)!

If you experience sudden swelling and other symptoms of preeclampsia, call your OB-GYN or birthworker. Preeclampsia can progress to eclampsia, a medical emergency.

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4. Blame it on the alcohol

When you drink alcohol, your body retains water, which could lead to swollen feet. They should return to your typical size in a few days, but watch out for a repeated cycle of drinking and dwelling. It could signal a liver, heart, or kidney condition.

5. Bodies change over time

You gain some, you lose some. Pounds, that is. If you have gained weight, your feet can get larger too. If you don’t have any other symptoms, it’s probably nothing to worry about.

6. It’s getting hot in here

In hot weather, your blood vessels expand to help you cool off. Extra fluid may collect in the tissues of your feet faster than your circulatory system can keep it circulating. People with improper circulation are more prone to swelling in hot weather.

7. Lymphatic system gone wild

Lymph is a fluid in your body that helps you fight infection. Lymphedema is swelling caused by the collection of lymph in your tissue. This swelling can be caused by several conditions including:

  • cancer
  • infection
  • radiation therapy
  • removal of lymph nodes
  • genetic conditions affecting your lymphatic system

8. Ouch, that hurts!

If you injure your foot, swelling is a natural symptom of inflammation. The body responds to injury or tissue damage with inflammation to accelerate the healing process. You may also notice redness or discoloration, warmth, pain, or bruising.

9. No, your veins are insufficient

Valves in your veins allow blood to flow in one direction. Malfunctioning valves let blood escape the wrong direction and cause swelling. Chronic venous insufficiency is a long-term condition involving malfunctioning valves and swelling in your legs and feet, especially when standing for long periods of time. Other symptoms include:

  • aching, heaviness, or cramping in your legs
  • itching or tingling
  • pain that’s worse when you stand and better when you elevate your feet
  • varicose veins
  • skin changes

10. Kidney disease: Filtration failure

Kidneys filter the fluids that circulate through your body. Kidneys that have a condition or injury may leave extra salt in your body, which leads to swelling. Kidney disease is more common in people with diabetes or high blood pressure.

11. Cirrhosis is serious

Liver damage is associated with swelling in your legs and feet. You may also have these symptoms:

  • fatigue and weakness
  • a low appetite or weight loss
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • confusion and other changes in thinking
  • itchy skin
  • dark-colored urine
  • yellowing of the whites of your eyes.

12. Blood clot traffic jam

If a blood clot — a solid lump of blood cells — forms in your legs, it will block circulation and cause swelling in your feet.

Head to the emergency room!

This is a medical emergency, so head to the ER if you suspect a blood clot sitch.

A blood clot in your leg can break loose and travel to your lungs causing a pulmonary embolism, which can be deadly.

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14. Infection connection

Remember inflammation? If you develop an infection in your skin or in your foot’s tissue, inflammation will cause swelling, redness or discoloration, pain, and warmth.

A serious infection may also cause fever. People with diabetes may have reduced sensation in their feet, which can lead to injuries. Insect bites, nail injuries, and cuts can also develop infections.

15. Medication side effects

A number of medications can cause swelling as a side effect. If you are taking any of the following common meds, talk with your doctor about whether it could cause your feet to swell:

  • antidepressants
  • blood pressure medications like beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers
  • antiviral medication
  • chemotherapy drugs
  • hormones and steroids
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

16. Your heart just can’t keep up

Heart failure doesn’t mean your heart has stopped beating, just that it can’t pump as much blood as your body needs.

If the right side of your heart is too weak, it can cause swelling throughout your body, including your feet. It may also cause shortness of breath and fatigue. The most common causes of heart failure are heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Most things that cause your feet to swell can also cause swelling in your ankles and lower legs. Why? Because your blood vessels that carry fluid to your feet also pass through your ankles.

In most cases, you can alleviate ankle swelling with the same remedies.

If you think your swelling is related to a health condition (that doesn’t require an ER visit), make sure to chat with your doc about your options.

Here’s a quick list of tips for reducing swelling, depending on what’s causing your feet to puff up.


  • Elevate your feet while sitting or lying down.
  • Wear support stockings.
  • Reduce your salt consumption.
  • Take a diuretic (water pill).
  • Try the legs-up-the-wall pose.


  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Elevate your feet.
  • Avoid standing for long periods.
  • Eat less salt.
  • Drink more water
  • Wear compression socks or stockings.
  • Go for a swim.
  • Apply cold compresses to your feet.


Weight gain

  • Buy larger or more comfortable shoes.
  • Stay active in a way that brings you joy.
  • Get enough rest and drink plenty of water.

Hot weather

  • Escape the heat and go indoors.
  • Indulge in a chilly foot bath.
  • Drink more water.
  • Try wearing compression socks.
  • Elevate your feet.
  • Walk or do gentle leg exercises (preferably indoors) to increase circulation.
  • Go for a swim.
  • Ask someone cute to fan you with palm fronds (we kid, but wouldn’t that be nice?)


  • Exercise regularly to get things moving.
  • Wear compression clothing.
  • Get a massage.

Foot injury

  • Try R.I.C.E.: Rest, ice the injured area, compress your injured foot with a bandage, and elevate your foot.
  • Use a splint or bandage for support.
  • Try over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medication for pain relief.
  • Contact your doctor if you suspect a broken bone or if your symptoms don’t improve.

Chronic venous insufficiency

  • Keep it moving and don’t stay in one position too long. Movement helps blood circulate.
  • Wear compression stockings.
  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations for skin care and in-office procedures.

Kidney disease

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends these methods to manage kidney disease:

  • Take steps to keep your blood pressure and blood glucose at manageable levels.
  • Take medications as prescribed.
  • Work with a dietician to create a meal plan that’s ideal for kidney health.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Try to quit smoking.
  • Reduce stress and talk with a mental health professional if you’re living with depression.

Liver disease

  • Avoid alcohol or medications that may contribute to liver disease.
  • Take medication as prescribed to treat the cause of your liver disease.
  • Limit your salt intake.
  • Take diuretic medications (water pills) as prescribed.
  • In the case of liver failure, you may need a liver transplant.

Blood clot

  • Take blood thinners and other medications as prescribed.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time.
  • Exercise regularly to boost circulation.
  • Drink plenty of water.


  • Wear shoes to prevent foot injuries, especially if you’re living with diabetes.
  • Treat cuts and bites by keeping them clean and bandaged.
  • Use antibiotic ointment to help cuts heal.
  • Call a doctor if your foot isn’t healing properly or if you have symptoms of infection. You may need oral antibiotics.


If you start a new medication around the time your feet begin to swell, talk with your doctor about whether the medication could be the cause. Some medications can cause swelling even after you’ve taken them for a while. Your doctor may change your medication or offer other options to relieve swelling.

Heart failure

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Try to quit smoking.
  • Take medications to lower blood pressure, relax blood vessels, and slow your heart rate as prescribed.
  • Take diuretics (water pills) to reduce fluid in your body.
  • Try oxygen therapy with a doc’s blessing.
  • If heart failure progresses, you may need to be hospitalized or need surgery.

If you don’t have a serious underlying condition, but deal with swollen feet on the reg, try some of these everyday remedies to reduce swelling:

  • Drink plenty of H2O.
  • Wear compression socks.
  • Elevate your feet above your heart
  • Take a little walk, do some stretches, or anything to move your body.
  • Try a cool bath with Epsom salts to ease inflammation.
  • Cut back on your salt intake.
  • Treat yourself to a foot massage.
  • Consume more magnesium-rich foods or take a supplement. Ditto, for potassium.

A long list of conditions and factors can cause your feet to swell. Often it’s harmless and a few home treatments may help the size of your feet improve.

If swelling doesn’t get better with home treatment or it gets worse, call a doctor about treatment.

You should also have your feet checked out if you have:

  • pain
  • skin injuries that don’t heal
  • redness or discoloration, heat, or swelling that only affects one side of your body

If you have a chronic condition that causes swelling, follow your doctor’s recommendations for treating the underlying condition and swelling.