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What Causes a Person's Ankles to Swell?

author image Kathleen Blanchard, R.N.
Kathleen Blanchard is a registered nurse, with more than 10 years of experience in cardiovascular health, emergency room and ICU. She writes professionally for and Blanchard is currently employed as a senior case manager and has held certification as a critical care registered nurse (CCRN), advanced trauma life support (ATLS), and advanced cardiac life support (ACLS).
What Causes a Person's Ankles to Swell?
An overhead view of a swollen ankle and foot due to trauma. Photo Credit: SINGTO2/iStock/Getty Images

Many people experience swollen ankles. This swelling -- also called ankle edema -- can have several causes ranging from minor to significant underlying health problems. See your doctor for an accurate diagnosis if you experience ankle swelling.

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Injury is one of the most common reasons for ankle swelling. Trauma to the ankle joints, supporting structures or surrounding tissue can cause swelling from fluid accumulation caused by inflammation. This swelling is often accompanied by pain, bruising and decreased range of motion.

Prolonged Positioning

Standing or sitting for long periods of time can cause your ankles to swell as gravity causes fluid to accumulate in your lower extremities. Individuals with varicose veins or excess body weight may be especially prone to ankle swelling with prolonged positioning due to decreased ability of leg veins to pump fluid back to the heart.


Some medications can cause your ankles to swell. Swollen ankles are common for individuals taking calcium channel blockers, commonly prescribed medications to control blood pressure and treat heart disease. Examples include amlodipine (Norvasc), diltiazem, verapamil and felodipine. Steroids and other hormones, such as estrogen for hormone replacement therapy or taken for birth control, and some classes of antidepressants known as MAO inhibitors or tricyclics can also cause ankle swelling.

Medical Conditions

Congestive heart failure causes fluid to accumulate in the lower extremities and other parts of the body. A common symptom of heart failure is swelling in the ankles. Heart failure occurs from ineffective pumping action of the heart and requires a complete physical exam and testing to determine the cause.

Arthritis can affect the ankle and lead to swelling. Inflammation leads to pain, stiffness and ankle swelling that are the primary symptoms. Swelling in the ankles from arthritis is often the result of repeated trauma or previous fracture.


It is not uncommon to have swollen ankles during pregnancy. When the uterus grows it puts pressure on the pelvic organs and blood vessels, impeding the normal return of fluids back to the heart. Sudden swelling in the ankles can be a sign of preeclampsia, a dangerous condition that causes symptoms of high blood pressure, headache, sudden weight gain and blurred vision. The condition can be life threatening -- seek immediate medical attention if you have these symptoms.

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