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August 17, 2021 5 min read

In this article:

  • Edema: Diabetic swelling in the legs and feet
  • Why are diabetics at an increased risk of peripheral edema and swelling?
  • Natural ways to reduce swelling

Edema:Diabetic Swelling in the Legs and Feet

If you've noticed puffiness, tight and shiny skin, and swelling building up around the calves, ankles, feet, hands, and even fingers, chances are it's probably due to fluid buildup. This swelling in the lower extremities is known as “peripheral edema” and it's one of the more common complications of diabetes. However, diabetics aren't the only people who may experience this uncomfortable swelling. Pregnant women often experience swollen feet and ankles due to the excess pressure placed on the capillaries. Heat, poor diet, menstruation, excessive salt intake, burns, certain medications, and having to stand for long periods of time can also cause inflammation and swelling. Conditions like kidney disease, heart failure, liver cirrhosis, thyroid disease, lymphoedema, and deep venous thrombosis can all cause swelling as well.

People with diabetes are also at an increased risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD), which causes the blood vessels to narrow and restricts blood flow to the legs and feet. It can also cause nerve damage called peripheral diabetic neuropathy, which prevents you from feeling pain. Peripheral vascular disease, in which fatty deposits block blood vessels in the lower extremities, is also common among diabetics.

In any case, signs of edema and excessive swelling should always be discussed with a healthcare professional.

For those with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, discomfort and reduced mobility are among the mildest results of this swelling. If left untreated, however, it can have much more serious implications. Foot ulcers, infections, foot deformity, and even amputation are potential complications that can arise from untreated swelling.

Why arediabetics at anincreased risk of peripheraledema and swelling?

Though anyone can potentially be at risk of peripheral edema and swelling around the feet and legs, many of the risk factors associated with peripheral edema are also associated with diabetes. For example, obesity, poor circulation, hypertension, venous insufficiency, heart disease, kidney problems, and the side effects of diabetes medications are all common among diabetics and contribute to blood circulation issues and fluid retention.

Diabetes is a dysfunction of the pancreas in which enough insulin is not produced. This often leads to high blood sugar levels accumulating in the blood. These high blood glucose levels can damage blood vessels, resulting in poor blood circulation. This poor circulation often traps fluid in certain areas of the body, especially the feet and ankles, and slows down the healing process. If numbness occurs, it can make it difficult to detect injuries like ankle sprains and even minor injuries like cuts. Left untreated they can get even worse or become infected, and in extreme cases amputation may be necessary.

Natural Ways to Reduce Swelling

  • Use compression socks: Compression socks are an inexpensive and effective way to treat swelling and inflammation. Typically, they are offered in three different levels of compression. It's important that you slowly work your way up to the most compressive level over time, so they are best used with the advice of a doctor. In any case, they can be a great way to stop swelling from getting any worse.
  • Stay active:Regular exercise and movement are crucial to the prevention of type 2 diabetes, helping to decrease swelling and inflammation throughout the body. Low impact exercise like biking, swimming, and walking can help to increase blood circulation, improve blood sugar levels, and reduce swelling. Try to get up and move once every hour to avoid swelling due to inactivity, and set aside 30 minutes to an hour a day dedicated to exercise.
  • Avoid inflammatory foods:Certain foods are not only potentially dangerous to blood glucose levels, but they can also cause undue inflammation throughout the body. Refined carbs, fried foods, sugary beverages and snacks, processed meats, red meat, and fats like margarine and lard can make swelling and inflammation worse. If you want to counteract the inflammatory effects of these foods, try to include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet instead, like nuts, fatty fish, olive oil, leafy greens, and fruits. You can also try adding a natural anti-inflammatory supplement to your diet, like Boswellia Serrata. However, be sure to first consult a doctor to ensure it won't counteract any prescription medications.
  • Limit salt:High sodium intake, such is customary with the typical American diet, has been associated with inflammation in patients with high blood pressure. Although salt does not affect blood sugar levels, the American Diabetes Association recommends people with diabetes limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of salt per day to avoid an increased risk of heart disease and inflammation.
  • Elevate the swollen area: Simply elevating the swollen area throughout the day and even during sleep may help to decrease fluid retention. Ideally, the area should be raised above heart level. However, if you must sit at a desk or table for prolonged periods of time, try to use another chair or footstool to raise the feet or swollen area, and don't forget to take regular breaks to get up and stretch.
  • Drink lots of water:When dehydrated, the body hoards water which can cause fluid buildup. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated helps to flush out pro-inflammatory toxins and excess liquid via urination. Healthline advises that "if edema is due to heart problems or liver problems, your doctor may advise you to restrict your fluid intake." So make sure to consult a doctor before suddenly increasing your fluid intake.
  • Lose weight: Weight loss is another important tool for managing the symptoms of diabetes. Excess weight can place stress on the joints and capillaries. Losing weight can help to reduce swelling, decrease joint pain, lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, lower your cholesterol numbers, help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and reduce damage to your blood vessels. All of the above points should help contribute to healthy body weight.
  • Check your feet daily:Swelling in the lower extremities can be due to infections. Those with peripheral diabetic neuropathy may have trouble feeling pain in their feet, which can leave cuts untreated and make one susceptible to infections and inflammation. Maintaining good foot hygiene through daily checkups, exercising caution with clipping toenails, doing epsom salt soaks, massage, and the use of essential oils and lotion will help to keep your feet in pristine health and more attuned to any inflammation or injury you may be experiencing.

Above all, getting to the root of your swelling, whether in your feet or elsewhere, is the key to managing and even stopping inflammation. The sooner you practice good feet hygiene and monitor your health, the better your treatment and management options become. Consider regular visits to the podiatrist so your feet swelling does not develop into further complications or get out of control.

Summary Points

  • The swelling in the lower extremities is known as “peripheral edema” and it's one of the more common complications of diabetes
  • People with diabetes are also at an increased risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD), which causes the blood vessels to narrow and restricts blood flow to the legs and feet
  • Poor circulation often traps fluid in certain areas of the body, especially the feet and ankles, and slows down the healing process
  • Regular exercise and movement are crucial to the prevention of type 2 diabetes, helping to decrease swelling and inflammation throughout the body
  • Include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet instead, like nuts, fatty fish, olive oil, leafy greens, fruits, and anti-inflammatory supplements such as Boswellia Serrata



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