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Causes of a Swollen Ankle With No Pain

by
author image Dr. Tina M. St. John
Tina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.
Causes of a Swollen Ankle With No Pain
A man is reaching for his ankle. Photo Credit pojoslaw/iStock/Getty Images

Overview

Painless swollen ankles occur relatively commonly, especially among older adults. The condition represents an accumulation of excess fluid in the soft tissues of the lower legs. A variety of diseases and abnormalities can lead to painless ankle swelling. In some cases, this symptom resolves quickly and does not indicate an ongoing medical problem. Persistent swollen ankles without pain, however, may indicate a serious underlying disease.

Inactivity

Muscular activity helps push blood out of the legs toward the heart. Periods of prolonged inactivity can cause blood pooling in the lower legs, frequently leading to fluid leakage into the soft tissues and painless ankle swelling. A long car drive or airplane flight often provokes transient, painless ankle swelling. People whose occupations require prolonged sitting may also develop painless swollen ankles, also known as peripheral edema. Regularly flexing the leg muscles while sitting and taking brief walking breaks can help reduce ankle swelling associated with prolonged inactivity.

Pregnancy

Pregnant women often develop painless swollen ankles, especially late in the pregnancy. Hormone-induced salt and water retention contributes to pregnancy-related ankle swelling. Additionally, the enlarged womb partially obstructs blood flow from the legs. The resulting increased pressure within the leg veins commonly leads to fluid leakage into the soft tissues of the ankles. Although ankle swelling typically proves harmless during pregnancy, a sudden increase in ankle swelling or severe swelling may indicate the development of preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy complication.

Overweight and Obesity

People who are overweight or obese often develop painless ankle swelling. Excess body fat compresses the leg and abdominal veins, increasing pressure within the blood vessels and promoting fluid leakage into the soft tissues. Inactivity leads to blood pooling, which further increases pressure within the leg veins. The combined effects of excess body fat and inactivity commonly leads to painless ankle swelling. Weight loss and increased physical activity can help alleviate ankle swelling caused by excess body weight.

Heart Failure

Persistent ankle swelling without pain is a common symptom among people living with moderate to severe heart failure. The weakened pumping capacity of the heart causes blood pooling in the legs and water retention by the kidneys. These factors frequently lead to painless edema of the ankles, feet and lower legs.

Kidney Disease

Painless swelling of the ankles is a common symptom of acute or chronic kidney disease. The kidneys maintain normal water and salt balance in the body. Kidney disease frequently causes abnormal salt and water retention, resulting in fluid overload and leakage into the soft tissues. Salt restriction may help reduce peripheral edema in people with kidney-related ankle swelling.

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