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Ankle Swelling From Heart Failure

 

People with heart failure often experience swelling in their ankles or feet. The degree of swelling you experience depends on how well your body is compensating for heart failure and how much sodium and water your body retains. In some cases the swelling is mild and merely bothersome, while in other cases it can be severe and painful if the skin becomes taut and sensitive.

The medical term for this swelling in the legs is pedal edema—"pedal" refers to the feet and "edema" refers to the buildup of excess fluid. Heart failure often causes what doctors call "pitting edema," meaning that applying pressure to the swollen skin leaves an indentation in the skin. Doctors often test for edema by pressing their thumb to the skin and seeing whether it leaves an impression. You may see this yourself if you take off your shoes and socks and find that your socks have left an impression in the skin of your ankles and feet.

Pedal edema is often worse at the end of the day because fluid has been pooling in your ankles as you sit or stand. You may also notice more severe swelling if you have been eating too much salt, which causes your body to retain fluid. Elevating your feet or wearing supportive stockings can help relieve the swelling.

 

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
Last Revised August 5, 2010

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