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Home arrow Health arrow Diabetes arrow Diabetes and Swollen Feet – A Guide to Managing Edema

Diabetes and Swollen Feet – A Guide to Managing Edema

Written by Thalia Oosthuizen
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 12, 2023
8 min read 1474 Views 0 Comments
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Is edema making your life a waking nightmare? Worry not. We’ve put together this simple guide to help you manage your symptoms.

Diabetes swollen feet

Living with diabetes can be incredibly difficult, especially if you struggle with edema, which causes swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs. But, with the right lifestyle and practices, it doesn’t have to be impossible. Managing the symptoms of edema is an easily achievable feat and will help you get back in control of your life. But how exactly do you start doing that?

We’re here to provide some help. Below is a short guide that Health Reporter has put together to help you manage your edema and regain control of your life. Walking will become as easy as it once was with just a few simple steps. Read on for more about diabetes mellitus and its effect on your feet and ankles.

What Are the Symptoms of Edema?

As you may already know, peripheral edema is swelling that occurs in the legs, ankles, and feet and can manifest in either one or both of your lower limbs.

For people living with diabetes, it is essential to take additional precautions when dealing with edema, as swollen legs can cause bad blood flow and circulation.

Fluid retention in the legs can cause a build-up as tiny blood vessels become damaged and leak into surrounding tissues. This is the main cause of swollen legs and feet and often results in heel pain and discomfort throughout the legs.

People with diabetes often have issues with blood circulation. When the blood flowing throughout your body does not circulate properly, wounds heal slowly or not at all, and swelling only makes it more difficult for wounds to heal.

This is why it’s so important to manage edema! This is even more important if your diabetes is paired with kidney disease.

The following symptoms are signs that you may have edema:

  • Puffiness or swelling
  • Shiny or stretched skin
  • Swelling that stays firm and does not pit
  • Skin that pits (remains indented) when you press it

What Causes Edema in Legs?

While leg swelling is most often caused by high blood sugar in diabetes mellitus patients, it is not the only cause. Here are some other common causes of edema:

  • Surgery
  • Burns
  • Not being active
  • Pregnancy
  • Standing or sitting for extended periods
  • Menopause
  • Menstruation
  • Hot weather
  • Too much salt in your diet
  • Poor diet
  • Birth control medications

If you are experiencing swelling in one leg or foot but not the other, you might not have diabetes. Instead, you could be dealing with cellulitis, deep vein thrombosis, osteomyelitis, lymphatic blockage, a ruptured baker’s cyst, or trauma.

Causes related to diabetes

The swollen feet caused by edema can also be caused by a lack of blood flow, heart disease, kidney disease, and liver disease. Having diabetes puts you at greater risk of developing one of these conditions.

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Unfortunately, certain medications used for treating diabetes can also cause swelling, such as Avandia and Actos. They may also cause heart problems, though this is less likely. However, if you are suffering from congestive heart failure, you should avoid these medications and instead opt for another treatment method.

Why do people with diabetes retain water?

Water retention, or fluid retention, is the build-up of fluid in an area of the body that causes swelling, generally in the feet, ankles, wrists, or arms. Peripheral edema, which causes leg swelling and swollen feet, is the most common type of water retention.

Edema often occurs as a side effect of diabetes medication and insulin therapy, though it can also be a symptom of kidney disease and heart failure related to diabetes.

Are swollen ankles a sign of diabetes?

As we mentioned previously, swollen feet and ankles are not always only caused by diabetes, but the condition is certainly the most common cause. Leg swelling can be caused by high blood pressure, leg injuries, and certain medications.

If you are worried that your legs are swollen due to undiagnosed diabetes, be sure to consult with your physician. They will provide you with all of the information you need about the nature of your condition and how to treat swollen feet and improve blood circulation throughout your body.

Diabetes and Swollen Feet – How to Reduce Swelling?

Diabetes inhibits your body from producing enough or any insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps your cells absorb sugar, and if your body is not producing enough, your blood sugar will spike due to high glucose concentrations. If left untreated, this can cause damage to the lining of small blood vessels, resulting in poor blood flow.

Poor circulation causes fluid to become trapped in certain parts of your body. Over time, high blood sugar makes it difficult to treat swollen feet and can damage the nerves in your lower extremities and other body parts, leading to numbness. Subsequently, it can become difficult to detect injuries such as fractures, sprains, and cuts.

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Untreated, these injuries can cause more swelling and also lead to infection. Again, be sure to contact your physician about any swelling you are experiencing, as edema can sometimes be a clue to the presence of an underlying problem, like kidney, liver, or heart disease.

Additionally, you need to keep in mind that bad circulation can lead to deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, foot ulcer issues, and foot and ankle injuries.

If you are struggling with gestational diabetes or any other form of diabetes that is causing leg, ankle, or heel pain, try these methods to alleviate the swelling:

#1 Elevate your feet when you can

One of the most effective ways to alleviate swelling is to elevate your foot above your heart level. This will help reduce fluid retention in the lower part of your body, as it returns toward your body rather than collecting in your legs and feet.

It works best to elevate your feet while lying in bed or sitting on a couch. Use pillows to keep your legs propped up most comfortably. If you are sitting at a desk and cannot keep your legs above your heart, resting them on an ottoman can relieve your diabetic foot.

#2 Don’t forget to drink water

When your body is retaining fluid, it might seem counterproductive at first to drink more water. However, the more fluid you consume, the more fluid you will expel through urination.

Furthermore, your body retains as much water as possible when dehydrated. Try your best to drink 8–10 glasses of water each day to improve the state of your swelling.

Of course, before you increase your intake of fluids, be sure to consult your doctor to determine whether or not this is the best practice for you. If your edema is caused by liver or heart issues, your doctor may advise you to consume fewer fluids.

#3 Consume less sodium

Eating lots of salty foods can also exacerbate your swelling. Rather than cooking with salt, try to incorporate herbs like oregano, garlic powder, thyme, rosemary, and paprika into your diet.

For those living with diabetes, it may be time to start regulating your sodium intake. Be sure to chat with your doctor about how much salt is safe for you to eat each day. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables can help you cut back on your salty foods, look for low-sodium canned goods, and purchase fewer processed foods.

If you want to track the amount of salt you are consuming and the other essential nutrients in your diet, we recommend the Klinio App. It provides you with many tools that would greatly benefit someone with diabetes, such as a personalized meal plan, a simplified grocery list, beginner workouts requiring no equipment, and a useful progress tracker.

#4 Wear compression socks

Compression socks work to maintain the right level of pressure on your lower limbs, improving blood circulation and subsequently reducing swelling. They can be bought from most pharmacies, medical supplies stores, and even some grocery stores.

These socks come in different pressure levels, including heavy, medium, and light, but to find out which will work best for you, speak with your doctor. The most important thing is to ensure that your socks are not too tight, so we recommend starting with light and increasing the pressure if necessary.

#5 Try Epsom salt foot soaks

Epson salt is a magnesium sulfate compound that can reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Try fulling a tub or footbath with water and pour some salt into the water, then soak your feet for around 20 minutes.

If you are dealing with diabetic neuropathy, be sure to test the temperature of the water with your hands before dipping your feet in so that you do not injure them.

#6 Have an exercise regimen

Being inactive is one of the leading causes of excess swelling in a diabetic foot. Try to make an effort to move around as much as you can throughout the day because exercise is not only useful for managing blood sugar and achieving a healthy weight but can also promote better blood circulation.

Choose exercises that are not weight-bearing, such as cycling, swimming, and walking. 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week will help you see a notable improvement in the condition of your swelling.

#7 Comfy shoes are important

Wearing uncomfortable shoes can also exacerbate the swelling caused by edema, so you’ll want to ensure that the shoes you are wearing fit you well. That means ensuring that they are not too small or too big and do not cause any chafing or scratching when you walk.

#8 Try to walk as often as you can

Although it is difficult to do when dealing with edema, walking around can help get your blood flowing and allow the accumulated fluid in your feet to move from your feet and throughout your body. Thirty minutes to 1 hour of walking each day can help you see a drastic improvement in your swelling and will also help regulate your blood circulation.

A Word From Our MD

Living with diabetes poses a whole host of unique challenges that can be difficult to overcome. Still, perhaps the worst of these challenges is living with peripheral edema, the swelling in your feet. It can be debilitating, making walking or simply moving your legs a painful, uncomfortable experience.

But, with a good diet and regular activity, you can manage your swelling and even alleviate it completely. Sticking to a healthy diet of less salt and more fresh fruit and vegetables will help keep your heart healthy, promoting good blood flow and reduced swelling.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give you is not to lose hope. I know just how difficult living with swelling in the legs and feet can be, and there will be those days when you just feel like lying in bed and doing nothing. But that will do you far more harm than good. You don’t have to let edema get the best of you!


Peripheral edema is a difficult condition to live with, but it can certainly be managed. With the right medications, exercises, and diet, edema can become a problem of the past. If you are struggling to reduce the swelling in your feet, try some of the methods mentioned above, and you should see an improvement in your condition. And, if you want to change your diet to include healthy foods that will help reduce your edema-related swelling, consider downloading the Klinio app.

Written by Thalia Oosthuizen
Thalia has always wanted to be a writer, starting her first local newspaper at the age of 11. She also has enjoyed a passion for health and fitness since a young age, playing many sports through her schooling career, and still enjoys biking, running, and swimming today. She studied English Language at University for 3 years, developing a passion for spelling, grammar, and research. She now has over 10 years of experience writing, proofreading, and editing, and has paired this with her love for health and fitness by writing health content.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Thalia Oosthuizen
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: October 12, 2023
8 min read 1474 Views 0 Comments

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