What Are Cankles a Sign Of?

Reviewed on 3/26/2021

Cankles

It is quite normal to have big ankles by birth and the condition may be hereditary in some people.
It is quite normal to have big ankles by birth and the condition may be hereditary in some people.

Cankles is “slang” (and not a medical term) for the part of the leg where the ankle meets the calf without any defining contour of the ankle. It may be due to a large ankle that you are born with or swelling of the ankle. It is quite normal to have big ankles by birth and the condition may be hereditary in some people. It is not a sign of disease. You may develop feet and ankle swelling after standing for long hours and that is OK. However, if you have developed swelling of your ankles over a few days, it is a cause of concern.

Cankles can be a sign of any of the following conditions:

  • Obesity: Weight gain can cause fat to accumulate all over the body, including the feet and the ankle.
  • Injury to the leg, feet, or ankle: Injuries to the leg may cause leakage of blood from the blood vessels and result in local swelling.
  • Pregnancy: Foot and ankle swelling is a common symptom during pregnancy. However, if you suffer from blood pressure or you are experiencing lightheadedness, headaches, and shortness of breath, you may have a serious condition known as preeclampsia. Preeclampsia leads to highly elevated blood pressures that can harm your child.
  • Lipedema: Lipedema is the enlargement of both the legs of the body due to the deposition of fat under the skin. The skin bruises easily and the swelling is painful.
  • Lymphedema: Problems in the lymphatic system results in the improper drainage of lymph from the body. This can manifest in the form of swelling anywhere in the body, including the arms and legs extending to the feet and ankles.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): Deep vein thrombosis is the obstruction of the deep veins of one or both legs with one or more blood clots. It results in swelling and reddening of the legs. If the condition is left untreated, then it can lead to pulmonary embolism due to the lodging of the blood clot in the lungs.
  • Varicose veins: You may get cankles due to a condition, such as varicose veins, where the valves of the blood vessels become weak causing the pooling of blood in the legs. The pooling of blood may lead to cankles.
  • Congestive heart failure: In congestive heart failure, there is a weakening of the heart that causes it to pump the blood less efficiently. This causes fluid buildup in the blood vessels of the leg. The fluids leak from the blood vessels results in cankles. This is a serious health condition. If you suffer from shortness of breath as well, call 911 urgently.
  • Liver disease: A disease like liver cirrhosis causes a decrease in body protein (albumin) levels. Without enough albumin, the fluid leaks out of the blood vessels and causes swelling in the legs, arms, and face.
  • Kidney disease: Your kidneys filter the blood and remove waste materials from your body in the form of urine. When you have a kidney disease that hampers its function, the waste materials build up in the blood vessels. This results in swelling of the whole body beginning from the ankles, feet, and face.
  • Air travel: Sitting in flights for a prolonged time can cause your feet and legs to swell. However, if the swelling does not recede once you resume your activities after getting down from the flight, it may indicate some health conditions, such as DVT or a heart problem.
  • Medications: Certain medications can cause swelling of the legs, including the feet and ankles. These include:

Try losing weight if you think cankles are due to the increase in weight. You can elevate your legs at a level higher than your heart and wear compression or support stockings and check if it helps. Keep moving your legs and exercise them if you have to stand for a longer time. Despite these measures, if the swelling does not improve and you have additional concerns, schedule an appointment with your doctor to know if there is any other health issue.

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References
Sheps SG. Foot Swelling During Air Travel: A Concern? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/foot-swelling/expert-answers/faq-20057828

Medline Plus. Foot, Leg, and Ankle Swelling. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003104.htm

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