Swollen Feet and Ankles

Nowadays, each time I notice any little unwelcome change in my body, my finger is ready to point to cancer and anything related to it as the culprit.  One day last January, I noticed my feet and ankles were swollen, a mysterious condition that I had never experienced before. Having survived many mysterious ailments decades after surviving statutory age, I put swollen feet and ankles in the blame game department. Right off the bat,  I wanted to declare the swelling as a side effect of the Tagrisso pills but I couldn’t.  They hadn’t been shipped to me yet at that time!

As usual, I did my sleuthing. How did that happen? How could I suddenly have swollen feet and ankles? I thought only pregnant women got them. Or women from third-world countries that still have the disease called beriberi. Even when I was pregnant I never had swollen feet and ankles, but my breasts became swollen with milk for the infant right after childbirth. Those I liked because they made me look voluptuous overnight.

I consulted my RN friend in Albuquerque.  Over the phone she gave me a mini-course on swollen feet and ankles based on her education and experience. After the session, you’d think I would have been satisfied and put the issue to rest.  Oh no, not me. I’m an engineer.  I have the need to know.  Why do feet and ankles swell?  To find out, I returned to Google University (GU) and audited the course Swollen Ankles 101.

I searched GU only for what applied to my case. After all it’s all about me, which takes me back to the mother of all disclosures: I am not giving medical advice here. Remember I am a retired civil engineer who at the peak of relevance was only concerned about sewage flowing downhill. And it usually did, and still does, unless someone pumped it out of a place where it is not moving and hauled it somewhere where it can do its thing – flow downhill.

  1. Consumption of too much sodium causes feet and ankles to swell. After reading that statement, the light bulb over my head went like the flashing light on a police car. It made sense! My episode of swollen feet and ankles had immediately followed my bacterial lung infection event. During the coughing disturbance, I needed lots of liquids – water, tea, beer, soups – to help get rid of the mucus from my body.  I toyed with the notion of concocting from scratch the hearty chicken soup that everybody and his brother swear as sure cure for cough and cold but I couldn’t. There was not one dead chicken in the freezer.  The bed also beckoned me to loll. I resorted to canned soups, which had never been part of my eating regimen. For some reason, the canned soups tasted yummy those days, especially Trader Joe’s clam chowder. Its label on the can said, three (3) servings per can. No way, I argued with the label, One serving per can! And I ate the soup to my heart’s content over and over. During the sleuthing process, I re-read the label on the can.  It says one serving contains 800 milligrams (mg) of sodium.  Did the math: 3 servings in one sitting equal 2400 mg of salt. According to the Dietary Guidelines, persons 55 and older should not consume over 1500 mg of sodium per day. Conclusion: I ate waaaaay too much salt over a period of 21 days. No wonder my feet morphed into fat burritos.
  2. To treat swollen feet and ankles, elevation is the key.  Site after site in GU assured me that swollen ankles and feet are common and usually not cause for concern, unless accompanied by pain in other parts of the body or other symptoms that could signal a serious health issue.  No other malady symptoms accompanied my swollen feet and ankles.  After reading the encouraging paragraph, I wanted to do cartwheels to celebrate but I couldn’t.  My feet and ankles weighed like lead.  The theory behind the swelling of feet and ankles is simple and makes sense. Sodium is an element that plays a key role in regulating water in the cells of the human body, among other functions. Excess sodium makes the body hold extra fluids in the cells. Like the sewage in the sewer pipe, the water in the cells flows downhill. Gravity takes the excess water to the feet and ankles. There I had it!  To get rid of the swelling, I needed the help of gravity to return the water back to circulation. But how much more downhill can it be if downhill starts from the head then down to toes?  Solution: elevation!  I got a pillow and put it on top of the dining table. I sat on my favorite chair and propped my feet on the ingenious engineering contraption. My feet were higher than my waist.  I elevated my feet and ankles for 20 minutes every hour that day.  Okay. I must confess. My consultant and GU did plant the elevation idea in my head but I worked out the specs and details of the contraption. Bottom line: Elimination of sodium and elevation of the feet resolved the swelling issue after a few days.

Although I’ve been careful with my sodium intake and generally staying in my good behavior, my ankles still swell occasionally. Minor swelling. It’s a good thing I’m not into ankle bracelets. What I do when the swelling happens is I review the day’s immediate past activities and try to figure out what triggered it. I find that too much walking or prolonged sitting or standing causes it. Who knows! But surely, one thing happens when I elevate those feet up a few times for 20 minutes each time: The fluids mosey on back to circulation and allow the ankles to look sexy again…to a certain segment of the population. So I read.