Experiencing swollen feet from time to time is normal.
Anything from eating too much salt to experiencing hormonal changes can cause swelling in your extremities.
However, if you live with diabetes, you may be more prone to swollen feet. This can be a sign of an underlying issue.
But what causes swollen feet if you have diabetes? And how can you treat it?
This article will explain everything you need to know about swollen feet and diabetes.
What do swollen feet have to do with diabetes?
If you live with diabetes, chronic high blood sugar levels can affect your blood circulation, causing fluid buildup in your lower legs and feet.
Over time, people with diabetes can lose feeling in their feet and toes.
If they develop a foot infection, it may be undetectable.
This can cause serious harm if not treated, leading to an uncontrolled infection and swelling that will need to be treated by a doctor.
It is important for people with diabetes to regularly check their feet for bruises, scrapes, cuts, and open sores and wounds.
Swelling is also known as edema.
Edema can affect your feet, ankles, and lower legs. This may not only be uncomfortable but can negatively affect your quality of life and be a sign that your diabetes may be poorly managed.
What are the causes of swollen feet?
There are two main causes of foot swelling in people with diabetes, but many causes of swollen feet in general.
Sometimes it can be a sign of a more serious health complication.
However, oftentimes, foot swelling is temporary and can be treated at home.
High blood sugars experienced over time can damage the lining of small blood vessels in the body.
This contributes to poor circulation—especially in lower extremities like the lower legs (calves), ankles, and feet.
Poor circulation leads to edema or swelling.
Foot infections in people with diabetes are also a common cause of swelling and need to be treated promptly by a doctor to prevent further complications.
Many times people with diabetes lose sensation in their feet due to neuropathy (nerve damage.)
They may accidentally step on foreign objects that get lodged in the foot for weeks or months without notice.
This can lead to unintended foot infections, especially if you’re not keeping your feet clean and dry.
This is why it is recommended that people with diabetes always wear clean socks and shoes, especially when they’re outside.
Other causes of swelling
You can also have swollen feet if you don’t have diabetes. For example:
- If you’re experiencing an infection
- If you’re retaining water from eating too much salt
- If you’re pregnant or overweight
- If you’re taking certain medications
- If you have an untreated sprain or fracture
- If you are experiencing hormonal issues
This is usually temporary and isn’t a threat to your health.
You may also experience swollen feet if you have diabetes, but it may not be due to diabetes.
Swelling in the lower extremities is not always harmful.
However, contact your doctor if you have diabetes and you’re experiencing swollen lower legs, ankles, and/or feet for several weeks without any other explanation.
Although rare, swelling can indicate a heart, liver, or kidney problem.
Ankles that swell at night can be a sign of retaining water and salt due to right-sided heart failure.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) can also cause swelling in the ankle and foot.
What are the symptoms of swollen feet?
Many people will be able to tell they’re suffering from edema based on sight alone.
However, even moderate swelling of the foot or feet may cause shoes and socks to be tighter than normal.
It may be difficult to walk, run, or exercise normally on a swollen foot, and sometimes it can hurt to do so.
If your swollen foot is due to an underlying infection, your foot may be flush and hot to the touch.
Contact your doctor if your swollen feet are negatively affecting your quality of life or if you think you may have an infection.
How do you treat swollen feet from diabetes?
If your swollen feet are the result of an infection or open wound, your doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics or other medication to treat the cause and bring down the swelling.
Call your doctor if it hurts to walk or you cannot fit on shoes.
Your swelling may be due to an untreated fracture or sprain, which will need immediate attention.
However, if you do not have any broken bones or infections, the following remedies may help alleviate swelling, oftentimes at home.
Elevate your feet
You have probably heard this suggestion before, and it’s because it works!
Elevate your feet above heart level throughout the day to reduce swelling.
It can be easy to elevate your feet when you’re watching television or reading.
Swelling can go down quickly if done regularly.
Wear compression socks
Wearing compression socks can help alleviate the swelling.
They help promote blood circulation by putting the appropriate amount of pressure on your calves, lower legs, and feet.
It is important to wear compression socks during the day and remove them before bed.
Be sure that your compression socks aren’t too tight, or they can actually restrict blood circulation further.
You can start with a lighter compression sock and work your way up.
Do not wear compression socks over open wounds or infections.
Many people experience swollen feet because they’re retaining water from eating too much sodium found in salty foods.
Drink water to help flush out your body, reduce overall inflammation, and lower swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet.
Your body also holds onto extra water when it’s dehydrated, so—though it seems counterintuitive—drinking more water will actually decrease swelling.
Eat a lower-salt diet
This goes hand-in-hand with drinking more water.
Eat a lower-salt diet made up of whole, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean protein to help alleviate swelling and inflammation.
These foods are also best for people who live with diabetes, so it’s a win-win!
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2,300 mg. of sodium per day. For people with diabetes and other chronic conditions, it may be even less.
Consult with your doctor about the appropriate amount of daily sodium you should aim for, especially if you’re dealing with chronic swelling.
Exercise regularly to get your heart pumping and promote circulation. This in turn will alleviate swelling.
Start with activities like walking, jogging, running, cycling, or swimming.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends exercising at least 150 minutes per week, or an average of at least 30 minutes per day.
Exercise is also excellent if you live with diabetes, as it helps to lower blood sugar and HbA1c levels, and keep excess weight off.
Maintain your weight and lose excess weight
Alleviate swelling by maintaining a healthy weight.
Maintaining your weight can help battle insulin resistance, making it easier to maintain good blood sugar and A1C levels.
This can help prevent poor circulation and infections—the two main causes of swelling in people with diabetes.
Losing excess weight can also:
- Reverse prediabetes
- Lessen joint pain
- Improve your sleep and energy
It can also lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack which are major causes of death for people with diabetes.
Run an Epsom salt soak bath
Run an Epsom salt bath to help reduce swelling in the lower legs, ankles, and feet.
Epsom salt is a magnesium sulfate compound that helps reduce swelling and relieve achy joints and muscle pain.
This can be the perfect way to settle in after a long day of experiencing foot swelling.
Just be cautious if you have diabetic neuropathy. Test the water temperature before jumping in to make sure you don’t burn yourself.
How can you prevent swollen feet if you have diabetes?
You can prevent many instances of swollen feet by keeping a close check on your blood sugar levels.
This isn’t just good for foot health—it’s crucial for heart and kidney health as well, especially as you age.
Additionally, you can help prevent infections by checking your feet regularly for bruises, scratches, and open wounds.
Always keep your feet clean and dry and wear clean socks and shoes, especially when you’re outside.
It is helpful to eat a low-sodium diet, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and maintain your weight.
You may not be able to prevent swollen feet all the time, but following these strategies will cut down on how often you experience swollen feet!
Are swollen feet considered a diabetes complication?
No, but they can be a side effect of living with diabetes.
Additionally, chronically swollen feet may be a symptom or indication of diabetes complications.
These can include nerve damage (neuropathy), slowly healing wounds, or untreated infections.
In worst-case scenarios, these can lead to further complications such as lower-leg amputations.
Get your feet checked regularly by your doctor if you have diabetes and have been experiencing chronic swelling in your lower legs, ankles, and feet.
What is the best home remedy for swollen feet?
Prevent swollen feet by staying hydrated, exercising regularly, eating a lower-salt diet, and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
If you already have swollen feet, there are great at-home remedies. Elevate your feet, take Epsom salt soaks, and wear compression socks for relief.