Causes of MILD swelling or edema in both ankles are usually not as worrisome as the causes of severe edema in the ankles.

Have you noticed only mild swelling in your ankles?

Certainly, serious medical conditions such as congestive heart failure can cause only mild bilateral swelling in the ankles and lower legs.

But there are benign conditions that will never cause severe swelling.

If the bilateral swelling in your ankles has only been mild – and stabilized that way for a lengthy period of time – does this necessarily rule out a serious cause?

The answer is NO. There may still be a serious medical condition going on.

If you’re a 25-year-old athlete, the cause is far less likely to be congestive heart failure than if you’re a 50-year-old smoker who’s never been into exercising.

Causes of Mild Bilateral Swelling in the Ankles

“Dietary: excess consumption of salt, carbonated beverages or alcohol leads to salt and water retention in the bloodstream that diffuses into surrounding soft tissue,” says Jenepher Piper, a family practice nurse practitioner for Maryland Family Care for 25+ years and a former nurse with Home Care Nurse for Johns Hopkins Home Care.

“This occurs particularly in tissue that are subject to the effects of gravity: feet/ankles, hands/wrists.”

Lay off these beverages and cut down on the sodium/salt to see if this doesn’t make the edema go away. Most dietary salt comes from processed foods, not the salt shaker.

“Venous stasis (pooling of blood): prolonged standing, excess walking/running, elevated blood pressure, advanced age (all veins less competent), pregnancy (normal unless sudden and excessive), excessive heat,” says Piper. PMS and varicose veins can also be a cause.

The most serious cause in this second group is the elevated blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for stroke and can cause other damage to the body.

Excessive heat can lead to life-threatening heat stroke, but presumably, you’re experiencing the puzzling though mild ankle swelling while indoors, and it’s there on a daily basis.

Prolonged sitting can also lead to this problem. Below is ankle edema from an extended flight.

James Heilman, MD, CreativeCommons

In fact, prolonged sitting on a daily basis can lead to all sorts of ailments.

“Medication side-effect: anti-inflammatories(NSAIDS), prednisone and some blood pressure medicines (e.g., calcium channel blockers),” says Piper.

Have a doctor check the swelling in your ankles. What kind of doctor?

See what both a primary care physician and a cardiologist say.

However, you’ll likely first be seen by a nurse; get the nurse’s perspective as well.

And if you have swelling in only one leg, rather than bilaterally, this can mean a dangerous blood clot.

Nurse Piper
Patients suffering from conditions such as coronary artery disease, obesity and diabetes turn to Nurse Practitioner Piper to help them best manage their overall health.
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/Toa55