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Swollen Ankles and Swollen Feet

How are swollen ankles and swollen feet diagnosed?

Clinical observation and examination is the way swollen feet and ankles are diagnosed. A health care professional will likely ask questions about the swelling to obtain specific information and gain insight into the underlying cause of the swelling; once the cause is determined, treatments can be designed to help the patient. Simple observation and a patient's verbal description of the swollen area may be enough to presumptively diagnose the cause. For example:

  • a swollen ankle that the patient "twisted" a day ago is probably due a sprain;
  • a swollen foot that is warm with reddish skin in a person with diabetes, with a small cut on the foot is likely caused by an infection;
  • a bilateral foot and ankle swelling in a cardiac patient who did not take the prescribed diuretics is probably caused by a combination of dependent edema, poor fluid management and decreased cardiac function.

Laboratory tests are usually not used to diagnose feet and ankle swelling; however, they may be needed to be ordered in some patients to help diagnose underlying causes of the swelling. X-rays may be used to determine underlying fractures while CT’s or MRI’s may reveal the extent of tissue damage.

Which specialties of doctors treat foot and ankle swelling?

Some mild hand and/or foot swelling can resolve without treatment, while other patients can be treated by their primary care doctors. Depending on the underlying cause of the swelling, such specialists as internal medicine, orthopedics, sports medicine, infectious disease, OB/GYN and cardiologists are some examples of specialists that may be consulted.

Reviewed on 8/31/2016

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