Swollen Ankles in the Elderly: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

Swollen ankles are very common in the elderly and can be caused by many different things. They can sometimes be prevented though by following the right precautions. Swollen ankles can be very painful and uncomfortable and they can sometimes be a sign of a more serious medical condition, so those who do suffer from swollen ankles should seek medical attention. In this article we would like to offer some information about what causes swollen ankles as well as how you can prevent or treat them.

Ankle Injuries

The first thing to consider or rule out is an ankle injury. Ankle injuries are very common in seniors because as we age our bones become more brittle and fragile which can cause a light sprain to turn into a fracture which in turn causes swelling. Seniors who are overweight might experience a stress fracture caused by too much strain being put on the bone due to the excess weight. Seniors can prevent this by eating healthy food and trying to exercise as much as possible. When exercising, seniors should make sure that they are not putting too much strain on their ankles so that they can maintain a healthy weight without experiencing joint pain from their exercise. Seniors who do experience a stress fracture should visit their doctor so that they can take x-rays and try to stay off their ankle as much as possible so that they can keep it elevated until the swelling goes down.

Arthritis

Arthritis is another very common cause of ankle swelling in the elderly. As we age our joints start to degenerate which can cause pain and swelling in the joints. Seniors can try stretching exercises to strengthen the joints affected by the arthritis which will help reduce swelling. Alternating hot and cold compressions on the ankle joints can also help reduce joint pain and swelling in the elderly. Seniors can elevate their legs and then try switching from an ice pack to a heating pad every few minutes until the joint swelling has been reduced.

Vascular Obstruction/Edema

Seniors are also susceptible to problems with blood flow which can cause vascular obstruction or edema. If only one ankle is swollen it is very likely caused by vascular obstruction. Vascular obstruction only affects one side of the body and will often spread to the feet or leg as well. Seniors who are experiencing this should visit their doctor so that they can run tests and prescribe medication or perform surgery to keep the veins open. Edema is caused by poor circulation and causes excess fluid to build up and get trapped. Edema can be an early warning sign of kidney, heart or liver failure, so seniors who are experiencing edema should visit their doctor as soon as possible.

Gout

Seniors who suffer from gout that is caused by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood can also get swollen ankles. Normally uric acid is produced during digestion and excreted from the body in waste, but sometimes there is too much in the body and it cannot be completely disposed of. If the body is unable to excrete all of the uric acid, it crystalizes in the feet which causes the ankles to swell. Gout can be prevented by avoiding protein rich foods because they cause the body to produce too much uric acid as well as by drinking enough fluids and monitoring body weight and alcohol consumption. There are a variety of medications that seniors can take to reduce inflammation and treat gout, so it is good for seniors to visit their doctor if they are suffering from gout.

…Keep Moving

Moving around as often as possible and trying to avoid sitting or standing still in one place for a long period of time is another great way to prevent the ankles from swelling. Seniors who do plan to sit or lie down for a long period of time can keep their legs elevated to help with blood flow and prevent fluid from building up around the ankles. Those who commonly suffer from fluid retention can also try to monitor their sodium intake so that their body will be less likely to retain excess fluids. Seniors who are suffering from swollen ankles can try massaging the ankles or buying a support stocking to relieve some of the pain from the area.

Following these tips is a great way to prevent and treat ankle swelling in the elderly, but it is still a good idea for seniors to visit their regular doctor to ensure that their ankle swelling is not caused by a serious illness. As mentioned earlier, ankle swelling can often be a warning sign of organ failure or a serious disease and should not be ignored. Family caregivers can assist their loved ones by monitoring the ankles and checking regularly for swelling.

Additional posts on the subject in our Home Care blog:

 

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