How the Heat Affects Your Feet
Summer heat can be brutal and we’ve been experiencing extremely high temperatures so far this year in the Kansas City area. Prolonged periods of abnormally hot weather can cause foot, ankle, and lower leg problems. When temperatures soar into the high 90s and above, many people experience water retention, also known as heat-related edema. While this water retention occurs all over the body, gravity makes the swelling more obvious in the feet, ankles, and lower legs. Usually swollen feet and legs are a temporary side effect of the heat, but in some situations, medical attention may be necessary. Read on to see when you should be concerned and get tips on how to reduce the symptoms.
Causes of Swollen Feet & Ankles
Heat can cause temporary dilation of blood vessels. But, because of gravity, the body can also have trouble bringing all the blood from the extremities back up to the heart. This is why fluid commonly collects in the legs and lower feet causing swelling or, medically speaking, edema. If your skin feels tight and looks shiny, you are suffering from edema. If you press your finger into your skin and an indentation remains after you remove it, that’s a sure sign you have edema. Heat can also cause swelling in the hands and fingers.
People at Risk for Heat-Related Illnesses
While heat-related edema of the extremities (hands and feet) is typically not a serious condition, it can be a first sign of a more severe form of heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion. Who is at risk for heat related illnesses?
People with medical conditions including severe kidney, liver, lung, and heart disease
- Older people
- Pregnant women
- Overweight people
- People who exert themselves in the heat
Anyone at risk may want to take extra precautions when in the heat to prevent symptoms from occurring. It’s always best to play it safe.
Tips to Prevent Foot and Leg Swelling
There are steps you can take to lessen the chance of swelling due to severe heat. Here are eight actions you can easily adopt into your life to prevent heat-related swelling:
- Avoid the extreme heat whenever possible
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
- Elevate your legs to allow normal blood return from the extremities to the heart
- Exercise to improve blood flow
- Take brief walks and simple leg movements to ease swelling
- Wear support stockings to reduce swelling
- Communicate with your doctor if your swelling is triggered by a medical condition
- Avoid prolonged sitting or standing
Signs That Medical Treatment Is Necessary
Even though heat-related swelling can be temporary and seemingly minor, it may also be an early sign of heat-related illness which can lead to heat exhaustion or a fatal heat stroke. Leg edema can also be a sign that your medical condition requires different or more aggressive treatment. If the swelling is due to certain medical problems, (kidney or liver disease) you may want to restrict sodium and fluids. Be sure to discuss your condition with your doctor. Look for these signs that may tell you that you need to seek medical help.
- Injury to the skin that covers the swollen leg or foot
- Fluid oozing from swollen leg or foot
- You notice a sudden increase in swelling
- You have swelling for no apparent reason
Seek immediate medical care if you notice:
- Fever, redness, warmth, or pain in the legs
- Chest pains, difficulty breathing, confusion