Ankle edema can be a sign of a serious health problem and is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the tissues. Without treatment, ankle edema caused by an underlying health problem can progress to more serious symptoms. Other causes may be easily remedied once identified. Treatments for ankle swelling depend on the cause. In all instances of ankle edema, a physician should be consulted to obtain a diagnosis and recommendations for treatment.
Ankle edema may require medical treatment. Swelling in the lower extremities can be a sign of congestive heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. Treatment for ankle edema caused by cardiovascular disease includes beta-blockers to slow and reduce the workload of the heart, ACE inhibitors to keep blood pressure lower, cardiac glycosides such as digitalis to improve the pumping action of the heart, and fluid pills or diuretics depending on the cause. Restoring blood flow to the heart from a blocked artery with surgery, stenting or angioplasty or medications are treatments for coronary artery disease that can be an underlying cause of ankle swelling. Blood clots in the leg can also cause ankle swelling. Blood thinners are medications prescribed to treat clots or deep vein thrombosis. Some physicians prescribe anti-platelet drugs for vascular diseases of the legs that cause swollen ankles to help the blood flow more freely. Platelets are blood cells that cause the blood to clot. Medical conditions causing ankle edema require specific treatment based on the underlying cause and also include arthritis, injury and liver failure.
Elevation of the Legs
Elevating the legs above the heart can treat ankle edema. Sometimes ankles swell from standing too long, riding in an airplane or just driving all day. People with varicose veins are especially prone to swelling in the ankles, particularly when the weather is hot. Varicose veins happen when the small valves in the legs become incompetent and no longer close properly. Fluid accumulates in the ankles and feet from gravity. Poor circulation from peripheral vascular disease that causes blocked blood vessels in the legs can also cause ankle swelling. Pregnancy commonly causes swelling in the ankles and is treatable with leg elevation, exercise and avoidance of standing for long periods. Most causes of ankle edema from circulatory problems resolve overnight and return by the end of an active day.
Compression socks or hosiery can be purchased at the pharmacy to help poor circulation in the legs. The stockings, which are commonly used to treat edema, can also be fitted at a medical supply company with a prescription from a physician and may be covered by insurance. A downside is discomfort wearing compression socks or hosiery during hot weather. Compression garments for ankle edema are also called support hose. Socks or stockings can be worn by men or women. They act by putting gentle pressure on the veins in the legs to improve circulation and return of venous blood from the lower extremities, reducing fluid buildup in the feet, ankles and legs.
Some medications cause ankle edema. It may be worthwhile to ask your physician for an alternative prescription, especially if swelling is causing physical or emotional discomfort. Medications that cause ankle edema include calcium channel blockers used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, steroids, hormones and anti-anxiety medications, which according to MedlinePlus, requires no specific treatment and is benign.