What can be causing the “edema” or swelling in both of your ankles when everything’s been ruled out?

One day I noticed that my ankle area (both feet) was very mildly puffy (swelling).

Did I have edema? Edema is fluid retention and has many causes, some serious and some benign.

I first thought it was because I’d been wearing tight socks, but I quickly ruled that out.

I then thought it was a menstrual cycle coming, but it never came (not surprising because I hadn’t had one for nine months).

I then blamed menopause, which I obviously was going through. However, I still wondered.

The cardiologist I’ve seen a few times for routine heart disease screening took one look at both my ankles and immediately agreed that I had mild edema and said it was “akin to a few grey hairs” and nothing to be concerned about.

My primary care physician took one look at both my ankles and said they looked great; no edema.

However, further into the appointment she then said that there could be “trace edema.”

A dermatologist looked at both ankles and immediately said they looked normal and that there was no edema or swelling.

A gynecological nurse examined both ankles and she too said there was no edema and they looked perfectly normal.

So, do I have edema in both ankles or not?

A cardiologist sees a lot of this condition because heart failure is a classic cause.

I’d also think that a gynecological nurse sees a lot since PMS can cause swelling, and so can pregnancy.

A primary care physician would see it too, since they see patients with all sorts of conditions just for routine checkups.

A dermatologist will sooner or later run into it and get a good look at it simply by checking for skin cancer on the lower legs.

When I discovered the “edema” I had to go with the consensus that I actually did not have this condition after all.

If you believe you have mild swelling in your ankle area, there’s a possibility you actually don’t have any fluid retention.

What can masquerade as fluid retention is your unfamiliarity with how the skin about your ankles has changed over time.

I wasn’t in the habit of examining this area because there are no moles there, and when I shave, I don’t really look closely at the area.

But the day I discovered what I thought was swelling was when I just happened to take a look from a viewpoint that I normally never did. I have no idea how long my ankles have had this appearance, either.

The dermatologist said that skin loses elasticity as we get older, and when I grabbed at the puffy areas, she said it was skin.

There’s less muscle in that area, so that’s why the skin was “grabbier” than the skin along the calve.

If you were to see my ankles you wouldn’t think they were swollen or had edema; they’re actually skinny. But what had caught my attention was their apparent composition.

There seemed to be fluid under the skin because the skin was fleshy and soft-looking. And “grabby.”

You may want to take a good look at your ankle area and make a note of what they look like. I had never done this.

A tip-off that you probably don’t have edema is that you can see veins under your skin (such as below), and the area has indents from sinew.


My blood tests for kidney and liver function were normal. My thyroid is normal.

My celiac test was negative. I don’t sit or stand excessively. My diet is very low in sodium.

My heart is in perfect condition. There are no other symptoms like pain in the legs that can signal venous insufficiency.

Again, the consensus is that I don’t have edema or swelling in the ankles. Maybe you don’t, after all, either.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: Shutterstock/srisakorn wonglakorn