Everything You Need to Know About Diabetes and Swelling: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

In this article, we will discuss what diabetes is, the symptoms of diabetes-related swelling, how diabetes causes swelling, and…(continue reading)

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that is caused by low levels of blood sugar.

If you have diabetes, you may be familiar with the term edema which is a condition that results in swollen ankles, feet, and legs that is caused by an accumulation of fluid in the tissues of your body.

In this article, we will discuss what diabetes is, the symptoms of diabetes-related swelling, how diabetes causes swelling, and treatment options for swollen legs and feet.

We will also answer some frequently asked questions about edema and diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes, also called diabetes mellitus, is a chronic condition that affects the way your body regulates blood sugar.

Your body creates glucose, also called blood sugar, when you digest food or drink and your pancreas produces insulin to help move that glucose into your cells for energy.

When you have diabetes, either your body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin it does produce is not working properly.

As a result, too much sugar builds up in your blood instead of being used for energy.

There are several common forms of diabetes and these include type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is when your body does not produce insulin and is usually diagnosed in childhood.

Type 2 diabetes is when your body does not produce enough insulin or when the cells do not respond properly to insulin, which is called insulin resistance, and this form of diabetes is often diagnosed in adulthood.

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and typically goes away after your baby is born.

There is also prediabetes which is when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes and is often a precursor to type 2 diabetes.

CDC Diabetes infographic
CDC Diabetes Infographic

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

There are a variety of symptoms associated with diabetes and the most common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Feeling very tired
  • Blurry vision
  • Increased appetite
  • Slow healing cuts or sores
  • Unexplained weight loss even if you are eating more
  • Increased infections (examples include skin, vaginal, and gum infections)
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling irritated more often
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
  • Dry skin

If left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, nerve damage, and blindness so if you have these symptoms please talk to your doctor for a diagnosis.

How does diabetes cause swelling?

Swelling is a common problem if you have diabetes, especially edema.

Edema, also called peripheral edema, is a specific type of swelling that happens when your body holds onto too much fluid and the extra fluid accumulates in your tissues which can cause ankle swelling, swollen feet, and swollen legs.

The swollen extremities happen due to damaged blood vessels that leak fluid into the surrounding tissue. Diabetes causes edema due to poor circulation and blood flow which allows fluids to build in your extremities.

Other common causes of edema include congestive heart failure, kidney disease, cirrhosis of the liver, injury or surgery, certain medications, blood clots, and an unhealthy lifestyle.

The most common symptoms of edema include:

  • Skin that feels stretched or taut which can produce shiny skin due to the stretching
  • Puffiness or swelling
  • Skin that forms an indent or dimple when pressure is applied to it although this isn’t always the case

If you have any of these symptoms please seek medical care. If left untreated, edema can cause serious complications such as an increase in the risk of infection, increased risk of diabetic foot ulcers, pain, and stiffness.

Swollen Ankle due to diabetes picture
Diabetes: Swollen Ankle

What are the treatment options for swollen legs and feet with diabetes?

There are a few different treatment options available for swollen legs and feet with diabetes.

The first option is to elevate your legs above heart level for 30 minutes a day which will help reduce swelling.

Another option is to wear compression socks or compression stockings which apply pressure to your legs and help improve poor blood circulation. You can also try using doctor-prescribed diuretics which help reduce the amount of fluid in your body by increasing how much urine you produce.

The excess urine will reduce the amount of water and salt in your body.

Despite being counterintuitive since edema is a result of fluid retention, you can also increase urination by staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water.

Massaging the affected area may also help reduce fluid buildup and excessive swelling.

A foot soak using Epsom salt may also provide pain relief and reduce your swelling too.

Magnesium supplements may also help as magnesium is known to help with nerve function and in reducing your blood glucose levels.

Finally, if your swelling is due to infection then you may need antibiotics. As always, it is important to talk to your doctor first about what treatment options are best for you before trying any new treatment.

Can I prevent swollen ankles, swollen feet, and swollen legs with diabetes?

There are a few things you can do to prevent swollen ankles, swollen feet, and swollen legs with diabetes and most involve making healthy lifestyle choices.

You can maintain a healthy weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise as obesity and extra weight put more pressure on your veins and lymph nodes which can cause swelling.

Exercising regularly also helps improve your circulation and a healthy diet can also reduce your glucose levels. It is best to limit your salt intake as salt can make your swelling worse.

If possible, avoid standing or sitting in the same position for too long by getting up and moving around for a few minutes every hour as sitting or standing too long can also cause swollen legs, ankles, and feet.

If you are sitting down, you can also try to prop your feet up on a stool or pillow to improve blood circulation.

If you have diabetes, it is important to monitor your blood sugar levels as high blood sugar levels can also cause swollen ankles, swollen feet, and swollen legs.

Summary

Swollen feet, legs, and ankles due to edema are common symptoms of diabetes.

Edema is caused by poor circulation and excess fluid retention and can lead to serious complications if left untreated.

There are a few different treatment options available including elevation, compression socks, diuretics, increased hydration, and massaging of the affected area.

You can also try to prevent swollen feet and ankles with diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, limiting your salt intake, and avoiding sitting or standing for long periods of time.

If you have diabetes, it is also important to monitor your blood sugar levels in order to help manage your symptoms.

If you are experiencing swollen feet and ankles due to edema, talk to your doctor or health care provider about what treatment options are best for you.

References and sources:

Healthline

Verywell Health 

WebMD

NHS

Mayo Clinic 

CDC

Fact Checked and Editorial Process

Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Jacqueline Hensler and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera. 

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