Swollen feet don’t have to be

Oh dear, the shoes suddenly don’t fit anymore because the feet are so thick. Often the legs are also swollen. Seniors in particular have to struggle with it. What is the reason?

One answer lies in the dwindling performance of the veins. The veins in the legs decrease with age. This leads to chronic venous weakness, says Prof. Wulf Ito, chief physician of the cardiovascular center Oberallgäu-Kempten in Immenstadt (Bavaria).

Venous weakness, also known as venous insufficiency, means: The transport of blood from the legs to the heart – against gravity – no longer works smoothly. Blood congestion occurs in the legs. The accumulated blood in the veins causes more fluid to flow into the surrounding tissue. Edema forms.

But: The swellings can also have other triggers. “The exact cause needs to be clarified in any case,” says Ito.

Organ problems as a possible reason

Swollen legs could also indicate chronic heart failure, he explains. In addition to water retention, which causes the edema, patients often gain weight inexplicably and quickly and struggle with shortness of breath.

Kidney or liver diseases and an underactive thyroid are also possible causes.

What helps against swollen feet

The diagnosis depends on the treatment for swollen feet and legs. Medication may be prescribed and advice given to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This usually means: eating a balanced diet and moving around a lot.

Those affected are often prescribed compression stockings. “They cause the veins in the legs to compress,” explains Ito. This will help them move blood to the heart more effectively. Because less fluid escapes into the tissue, the swelling in the legs and ankles subside.

Rocking and stretching in everyday life

It is recommended to put your legs up as often as possible. That makes their work easier for the veins, says René Gräber, naturopath in Preetz (Schleswig-Holstein). Another tip from him: If you sit at your desk a lot, you should rock your feet more often.

The veins also benefit from stretching exercises several times a day. A simple exercise: Stand up straight and hold on to a chair. Now you stretch one leg back in the air and push your knee through. Repeat with both legs several times.

Lymph drainage as an approach

Massages are another remedy for the problems. With gentle movements, the accumulated fluid is directed towards the lymph glands and thus activates the circulation. “In naturopathy, there are also complex homeopathic remedies that target the lymphatic system and set it in motion,” says Gräber.

Vascular medicine specialist Wulf Ito also brings Kneipp applications into play. These were often found to be effective against swelling in the legs and feet. Often it is enough to put your feet in the cold water.

Signs of an emergency

Under no circumstances should swollen feet and legs be taken lightly. If a leg suddenly swells and this is accompanied by shortness of breath, chest pain and a racing heart, the emergency number 112 should be made immediately.

The trigger for the symptoms is then possibly a pulmonary embolism, which is associated with a venous thrombosis. In such a case, medical help is required immediately.

ABOUT THE PERSON: Prof. Wulf Ito is elected President of the German Society for Angiology / Society for Vascular Medicine (DGA).

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