Find out what my doctor said about my bilateral, mild ankle edema that doesn’t seem to have an identifiable cause.

The bilateral (both ankles) edema I first noticed several years ago was so vague that initially, my primary care physician didn’t even see it when I told her to look at my ankles.

Eventually she decided that I might have “trace” edema.

In fact, the “edema” was so mild that my veins and sinew were quite prominent, and I still had a thin ankle with bones jutting out.

But if a discerning eye looked closely, it appeared as though in certain areas, below the skin was more than just a thin layer of fat.

There was a fleshy, soft appearance, and I was able to grab at it with my fingers more than what I’d expect to for this location of my body.

The mild edema had not changed the shape of my lower leg or the diameter.

However, my cardiologist — during my annual routine heart health exam — immediately confirmed that my assessment was correct: that I had edema. He said it was “akin to a few grey hairs.”

Not long before this discovery I’d had extensive tests of heart function: all normal. Calcium score was zero. Stethoscope, EKG and blood lipids were all normal.

And, there were never any symptoms when I engaged in STRENUOUS exercise: high intensity interval training and intense and heavy weightlifting.

Blood tests for liver and kidney function were normal. Tests for celiac disease and low thyroid came back negative.

I wasn’t pregnant, and the mild bilateral ankle edema was not related to my menstrual cycle because I was newly postmenopausal at this time.


Could THAT be the cause of my vague edema in both ankles, I wondered.

The edema or whatever it was never went away overnight.

It was exactly the same at any time of the day. It had not changed in any way or degree since when I had first noticed it.

My OBGYN nurse denied I had edema, however. So did my dermatologist.

That’s three doctors (PCP, cardiologist and dermatologist) and one gyn nurse who had given their opinions.

But only two of these medical professionals believed it edema — one calling it “trace.” And two denied it. Very interesting!

Conclusion: I didn’t have edema in the ankles at all. It’s just that my ankle area isn’t going to look the same as it did 10 years ago or even five years ago.

I don’t excessively sit or stand.

I’m not on meds, and I have a low salt diet.

I have no symptoms that would suggest a kidney stone.

I don’t drink.

Lymphedema is a type of fluid retention characterized by marked swelling of the foot, which I don’t have.

I don’t have venous insuffiency and never had a blood clot.

I do have a small varicose vein in each calve, but I’ve had those for years. I don’t have ulceritis or Crohn’s. My colonoscopy was normal.

The “pseudo” bilateral ankle edema is non-pitting (no impression left when pressing a fingertip to the skin).

My advice if you seem to be in the same boat: Get doctor and nurse assessments, but consider the possibility that you actually do NOT have ankle swelling or fluid retention after all.

Instead, you’ve likely lost familiarity with what your ankles normally look like, and/or body fat stores can shift and settle closer to the ankle  —  something that wouldn’t necessarily be prevented with intense exercise.

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.  
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