It’s a hot summer day and you’re enjoying the sun in your backyard.
As the day progresses, you may notice that your feet and ankles swell. Your shoes may feel tighter when you put them back on. Or maybe your feet are visibly swollen.
What is happening? Should you be concerned?
According to Marisha Stawiski, DPM, a podiatrist with the Spectrum Health Medical Group, it’s basically your body doing its job of cooling you down.
“As your body heat rises, your blood vessels constrict to try to cool the body,” said Dr. Stawiski. “Then it’s harder for the fluid to get back to your heart.”
Add the effects of gravity in your lower extremities as you try to pull the fluid down and you get fluid around your ankles and feet. This leads to swelling, also known as heat edema, said Dr. Stawiski.
Some people have medical conditions that cause year-round edema, but everyone is more prone to it in the heat of summer, even if you don’t have other contributing factors, said Dr. Stawiski.
If you notice swelling in your feet or ankles, she suggests talking to your doctor.
It can be caused by medication, especially high blood pressure drugs, or a chronic illness such as congestive heart failure, liver disease, or kidney disease. It can also stem from a problem with your veins, including chronic venous insufficiency or varicose veins.
As anyone who went through a third trimester of pregnancy over the summer probably knows, pregnancy also causes swollen feet. It is due to extra fluid in the body and pressure from the growing uterus.
“The same principles apply, they are only magnified during pregnancy,” said Dr. Stawiski. “It’s definitely a big deal for a lot of women.”
Age can also make things worse, partly because of increased venous insufficiency, but also because of medical conditions like hypertension, which increase with age. Taking more medications may also be a contributing factor.
One red flag you should never ignore: Sudden swelling in one leg, along with pain. This may indicate a blood clot, requiring emergency treatment.
But if your swollen feet and ankles are an occasional occurrence all summer and you’re a relatively healthy person, this probably isn’t a red flag — and it’s probably the result of summer temperatures.
The good news: There are tips that work to reduce and hopefully prevent the swelling.
Some patients think that if their feet are swollen, they shouldn’t drink more water, said Dr. Stawiski.
Nothing could be further from the truth, she said.
“You can get dehydrated, especially in the summer,” she said. “Swollen feet doesn’t mean you have too much fluid, it just means it’s in the wrong place. So you definitely want to stay hydrated in the heat, even if you’re bloated.”
Aim for eight to 10 glasses a day, and even more if you sweat a lot.
Avoid foods with a high sodium content
dr. Stawiski recommends avoiding sodium-rich foods.
Eat more foods that are good diuretics as they help remove excess fluid from the body. This includes fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.
“Make sure you eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, as that will help process all that fluid naturally,” she said.
Exercising regularly and staying active throughout the day helps our bodies and lower extremities, with the natural pumping of veins.
Don’t stay in one position for too long. Instead, go for a walk or swim to promote circulation and release fluid build-up.
If it’s too hot to exercise outside, go to a mall or air-conditioned place where you can be active and stay cool.
Staying active can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which reduces the risk of swollen feet and ankles.
Raise your feet
While activity is important for prevention, you should also watch for swelling. If you notice any swelling, you can help relieve it by raising your feet above your heart.
Lie on your back with your feet up for a short period — about 20-30 minutes — then get up and move again.
Stay as cool as possible
Avoid things that raise your body temperature, such as hot baths and saunas. Find ways to stay cool. Sit in the shade or move to air-conditioned areas if possible.
Avoid drinking too much alcohol
Alcohol can dehydrate your body and cause you to retain more water.
Increase your magnesium
Check with your doctor first, but a magnesium supplement can help prevent swelling by reducing water retention, said Dr. Stawiski.
You can also naturally boost the magnesium in your diet with pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, peanuts, spinach, black beans and edamame.
Wear compression stockings
It’s hard to wear compression stockings in the summer, but if you have a job that requires standing on your legs or sitting in one position all day, it’s a good idea to wear them, said Dr. Stawiski.
“They help push that fluid up,” she said.
If you are not sure about your swollen feet and ankles, do not hesitate to contact your doctor or a podiatrist.
“Your doctor can help determine if it’s caused by an underlying cause,” said Dr. Stawiski. “And if it’s just the heat, we can help explain that there are things you can do to prevent it.”