Understanding Heat Edema

Swollen feet and ankles in hot weather is common. It happens because of the dilating effects of heat on the blood vessels. On top of that, the body when overheated is usually inefficient in bringing the blood from the extremities back to the heart.

The swelling becomes more prominent in the lower extremities such as the feet and ankles because of the effect of gravity. While it’s not life threatening, the heat-induced edema can be uncomfortable as the excess fluid can make the skin tight and shiny.

Who are at risk?

Swollen feet and ankles in hot weather can happen to anyone but there are groups who are more prone to heat edema. These include people with certain medical conditions affecting their lungs, kidneys, and heart - organs that play a vital role in maintaining the body’s fluid balance. Older adults, pregnant women, and overweight individuals are also at risk for developing heat edema.

Although these groups are at higher risk of experiencing swollen feet and ankles in hot weather, young and healthier people can get it too. Athletes and military personnel can develop heat edema especially if they spend long hours doing strenuous activities under the heat of the sun.

Preventing Swollen Feet and Ankles in Hot Weather

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent heat edema. You can try:

Elevating your feet
Elevating your feet above the level of your heart can help in draining the excess fluid. For best results, do it for 30 minutes and for three to four times a day.  

Drinking enough water
Blood vessels dilate when the body is overheated. It’s the body’s way of cooling itself.

Insufficient water intake will only make things worse as it causes imbalance between the sodium/salt and water level in your body. Sodium level spikes, causing fluid retention in the body. And water retention means swollen ankles.

Avoiding heat as much as possible
If you need to work or do something outdoors in a hot weather, make sure to cool yourself down and take mini-breaks. Find shaded areas or bring a mini-fan with you to keep you cool.

Staying active
Immobility causes more fluid to pool in your feet and ankles. So, make sure to keep moving. If you’re at high risk of developing heat edema, try to avoid prolonged sitting or standing.  

Don’t let the possibility of swollen feet and ankles in hot weather keep you from enjoying the weather. Try these tips so you can enjoy the sun without the discomfort from heat edema.

Image:  Keirsten Marie

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