Edema Of The Ankles/Lower Legs

What Causes Swollen Legs Or Ankles?

Swollen legs or ankles can have various causes, ranging in severity from 'troubling' to 'generally fatal'.  Finding the true cause means ruling out or confirming each possibility – in other words, diagnosis.

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Diagnosis is usually a complex process due to the sheer number of possible causes and related symptoms.  In order to diagnose swollen legs or ankles, we could:

  • Research the topic
  • Find a doctor with the time
  • Use a diagnostic computer system.
The process is the same, whichever method is used.

Step 1: List all Possible Causes

We begin by identifying the disease conditions which have "swollen legs or ankles" as a symptom.  Here are eight of many possibilities (more below):
  • Protein Deficiency
  • Excess Salt Consumption
  • Short Bowel Syndrome
  • Hormone Imbalance
  • Food Allergies
  • Edema
  • Liver Congestion
  • Atrophic Gastritis

Step 2: Build a Symptom Checklist

We then identify all possible symptoms and risk factors of each possible cause, and check the ones that apply:
mild meal-induced pain
positive results from coffee enemas
bags under eyes
ovarian cysts
severe tongue swelling
regular episodes of diarrhea
infrequent meal-induced pain
frequent stools
difficulty conceiving children
scrotal edema
frequent colds/flus
inability to recover from alcoholism
... and more than 100 others

Step 3: Rule Out or Confirm each Possible Cause

A differential diagnosis of your symptoms and risk factors finds the likely cause of swollen legs or ankles:
Cause Probability Status
Food Allergies 91% Confirm
Hormone Imbalance 20% Unlikely
Excess Salt Consumption 17% Unlikely
Short Bowel Syndrome 4% Ruled out
Liver Congestion 2% Ruled out
Protein Deficiency 2% Ruled out
Atrophic Gastritis 1% Ruled out
Edema 1% Ruled out
* This is a simple example to illustrate the process

Arriving at a Correct Diagnosis

The Analyst™ is our online diagnosis tool that learns all about you through a straightforward process of multi-level questioning, providing diagnosis at the end.

If you indicate edema, The Analyst™ will ask further questions including this one:
Do you have edema of the ankles or lower legs? To rate its severity, press firmly with a finger for 5 seconds and note the approximate depth of the indentation or length of time to return to normal.
Possible responses:
→ No / don't know
→ Slight: 5mm (1/4 inch) depth, immediate return
→ Minor: 8-10mm (1/2 inch) depth, 10-15 seconds
→ Moderate: 11-20mm (3/4 inch) depth, 15-30 seconds
→ Severe: Over 20mm (1 inch) depth, over 30 seconds
Based on your response to this question, which may indicate edema of the ankles/lower legs, The Analyst™ will consider possibilities such as:
Cirrhosis of the Liver

When the liver loses its ability to make the protein albumin, water accumulates in the legs and abdomen.

Congestive Heart Failure

Edema of the ankles is a common manifestation of failure of the right ventricle related to both venous congestion and salt and water retention.  Those experiencing constant or worsening swelling of the feet or legs should see a doctor for a heart evaluation.

Edema (Water Retention)

Edema (Water Retention) also suggests the following possibilities:

Alcohol-related Problems

Excessive alcohol intake can cause edema.

Anorexia / Starvation Tendency

Semi-starvation can cause edema.  People with eating disorders may interpret the puffiness of edema or any changes on the scale as weight gain or getting "fat" and may panic and purge or take laxatives even more.

Aspartame/Neotame Side-Effects

Angioedema or swelling of the eyelids, lips, hands or feet are listed as possible reactions to aspartame.

Atrophic Gastritis

Edema may be due to low levels of circulating proteins from poor protein digestion.

Excess Salt Consumption

Salt can increase the amount of fluid that you retain in your body.

Hormone Imbalance

Hormones regulate the amount of interstitial fluid surrounding our body's cells.  A hormone imbalance can result in too much interstitial fluid, and thus edema.

Progesterone Low or Estrogen Dominance

Progesterone has also been used in the treatment of idiopathic edema under the premise that some women with idiopathic edema either do not ovulate or have a luteal phase deficiency.

Ovarian function was investigated in 30 women with postural idiopathic edema by measuring plasma estradiol and progesterone levels between the 21st and 23rd days of the menstrual cycle.  Plasma progesterone concentrations were found to be lower than 5ng/ml in 53% of the cases and lower than 10ng/ml in 83%.  The ovarian dysfunction most frequently observed was inadequate corpus luteum, i.e. progesterone deficiency with normal plasma estradiol levels.  In virtually all patients the initial disorder in capillary permeability, as evaluated by Landis' test, was fully corrected by progesterone administered orally.  However, clinical improvement was less marked with treatments of short duration (2-3 consecutive cycles).  In view of the complex cause of the disease, combined treatments in which progesterone might well play the major role are usually required.  [Presse Med 1983 Dec 10;12(45): pp.2859-62 (translated)]

Protein Deficiency

When protein (especially albumin) levels in your blood go too low, the colloidal osmotic pressure will decrease and allow fluid to escape from blood vessels into your tissues, resulting in edema or swelling of the hands, feet, ankles, knees and/or belly.

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