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Foot Edema, What Causes It, and How I’m Treating Mine

At first, I blamed my Sasquatch feet on prednisone. But two months after being totally off steroids, I still had bloated ankles and feet. I saw my PCP and she put me on Lasix temporarily to drain the excess fluid and then advised me to start wearing compression socks. I dutifully followed her advice, but Lasix didn’t return my feet to normal.

Very few footwear choices

Late autumn weather fell into twenty- and thirty-degree temps, but I couldn’t push my feet past the instep of my winter boots despite an improvement in the swelling. My feet stuck half in and half out of my boots, I couldn’t leave the house until I changed my footwear.  Wearing those darned compression socks, I could just about fit into my gardening clogs, a pair of slipper booties with a hard rubber sole, and some too-long athletic shoes with the sock linings removed. The athletic shoes fit width-wise, but my heels popped out of the shoes with every step. I hate wearing closed shoes and socks; they make my feet burn and swell and redden. Until I could find a way to solve the swelling, I had few footwear choices. It was time to do a little research and see what more I could learn.

A common secondary symptom of MS

A 2013 MSFocus magazine article explained why lower extremity edema is such a common secondary symptom of MS. It’s often the result of being too sedentary, which describes my lifestyle of the past year or more. When we sit too much, lymphatic fluid can no longer be pumped up out of the legs and could eventually leak out of the vessels. If it remains there for too long, the skin can erupt and put the patient at risk for infection.

This brought back memories

Envisioning weeping leg lesions brought back a personal memory. My father suffered from them after years of coronary artery disease progressed to congestive heart failure, another cause listed in the article. Although my heart is fine I did not want my condition to become that severe. But lack of exercise isn’t the only culprit that can put our feet on the short list for most awesome blimps in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Medication side effects

Medications are often the bad boys when it comes to producing side effects that might be worse than the symptoms they are treating. In a December 2018 article by Dr. Sharon Orrange, seven medications are listed as causing leg swelling:

  1. Amlodipine (Norvasc) — for treating high blood pressure. Can be switched out for other meds.
  2. Gabapentin (Neurontin) — for neuropathic pain.
  3. Pregabalin (Lyrica) — for neuropathic pain.
  4. NSAIDS — such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), and naproxen (Aleve), both of which cause sodium retention. Swelling is temporary and subsides when drug leaves the body.
  5. Oral contraceptives — estrogen is notorious for causing bi-lateral leg swelling, even though it can prevent DVTs that cause one-sided swelling. Progesterone does not produce this effect.
  6. Oral steroids (prednisone) — like NSAIDS, prednisone causes sodium retention and swelling should subside after drug therapy ends.
  7. Pioglitazone (Actos) and rosiglitazone (Avandia) — for treatment of Type 2 diabetes. Meds can be switched out for others.

Help with physical therapy

So the good news is that I did three weeks of physical therapy and the foot edema subsided with regular exercise. I was able to stop wearing compression socks. The bad news is that I started gabapentin for those dastardly blow torch/electrical shock sensations that woke me up every night. Oh, it helped the pain all right — but my feet blew up again (See number 2 above)! Grrrr. I’m now faced with a decision: either go off gabapentin, put up with the night pain, and have normal feet — or register them at Macy’s for next Thanksgiving.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. These 7 Medications Can Cause Puffy Legs and Ankles, by Dr. Sharon Orrange. GoodRx. Posted January 17, 2017.
  2. Slowing Down and Swelling Up: Ankles and Feet are at Risk, by MSF Staff and MSF Medical Advisory Board. MSFocus Magazine, Symptom Management page, published by Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. Last reviewed 2/2013.


  • Effie70
    3 weeks ago

    what really worked with my edema on my feet was my standing wheelchair. It’s a standing device I use every day for 20 minutes. Standing up , especially if you cannot walk or walk very little, makes all the difference. Compression stockings and raising your legs being the two other important steps. Good luck to all

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    3 weeks ago

    @effie70, so glad you found a technique that works for you! I’ve been without any swelling for months now just staying horizontal in bed for at least six hours a night. Solving my insomnia also solved my swelling and still does, nine months later. Good luck to all of us in finding and maintaining a solution. –Kim, author and moderator

  • Effie70
    3 weeks ago

    thank you, good luck to all of us, indeed

  • Dorry
    10 months ago

    I am no stranger to Lymphodema. I have had severely swollen feet/ankles for 50yrs. There was a time I could not go out because I couldn’t get shoes to fit and what I did wear my feet hung over my shoes. My feet are so very swollen it is embarrasing and people stare all the time.
    Living in the U.K. I can access the British Company mentioned here. J.D. Williams. The best Company in the U.K. to supply wide fitting shoes is COSYFEET. Try and access them online and check them out. They have a good variety. I don’t know if they ship to U.S.A. But you can always ask them. I am also on Amlodipine and Pregablin and my legs double in size and feel so heavy walking is difficult. My legs are mega swollen. I also have a painful neuropathy in my left leg and standing or walking too long sets off the pain. I have to pace myself when working and so find that I have no choice but to sit down a lot which is the only way to get rid of nerve pain from sciatica. We each find our own way and method of helping ourselves. Sharing helps us feel less alone and is a good support. Good website.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    10 months ago

    Dorry, thank you so much for mentioning cosyfeet. I looked them up online and I can see their shoes are too wide for me but it’s good to know they’re there. Others will be helped by your suggestion and now I have an idea for a new article, thanks for that.

    I’m sorry you’re having so much pain and walking difficulty. I know what you mean about sciatica only being relieved by sitting, the pain is all-consuming. I feel for all of us who struggle with edema. –Kim

  • asapcynthia
    10 months ago

    Oh, you’re singing my song. It’s almost impossible to find shoes that fit. To find a xxxx8.5 is near impossible. I was told to lay down and put my feet up over my heart. Nobody told me how to get up. Those compression socks work, but it takes a half an hour to get them off. My husband used to say I had pretty feet. Now they are anything but. Exercise does make it better, but I’ ll have wait for spring to do my daily walks. I found Birkenstock’s fit the best. Good luck to you, my ms homie.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    10 months ago

    asapcynthia, thank you so much for sharing your story. I found an excellent source for shoes that fit very wide feet. Quite recently, I’ve been wearing boots and shoes from a British company JD Williams out of Manchester, I found them online. They cater to older, overweight women with very wide feet, lol! Their boots aren’t labeled wide but they are extremely so. But their casual shoes go as high as eeee! I wear a size 6eeee or eee. They accommodate a high instep, too.

    There is a Skecher-style shoe that was too wide (!) and I had to return them. They are easy to return through USPS. Best of all, I bought three pairs of shoes for $40. The boots were discounted, too. Might you check it out? I know Birkenstocks work for you, but these might offer you some alternatives. Good luck to you, too! –Kim

  • dneeld52
    10 months ago

    I ordered a couple different pairs of CROCS. I got a basic pair that I could wear with winter wool socks. Then they had a great pair with a fabric lining, that I had to get a size bigger. I can wear my compression socks with the lined CROCS, either in the house or outside. It’s a bummer, but when my feet act up you need several sizes of shoes to cope.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    10 months ago

    dneeld52, great that you found a brand of shoe that works for you. Recently I found a British company called JD Williams that carries eee and eeee widths of boots and shoes–of which I’ve ordered seven pairs! I hope our discoveries help people who are shoe-challenged. Thank you so much for sharing! –Kim

  • JULES59
    10 months ago

    I, too, suffer with edema from SPMS and had two cases of PE bloodclots on top of it all. I have a lot of trouble walking and being sedentary is just a fact of my life. I had a wonderful physical therapist who gave me a couple of yoga stretches for legs/core that my husband helps me with every night that stimulates the lymph to drain. I was taking 80mg lasix until my kidneys could no longer take it, but the yoga stretches have REALLY helped! My neuro also suggested that I stand up more often, even if I don’t walk. He cut me back from 600mg gabapentin to 300mg, which isn’t a perfect world, but I’m not feeling horrible either, and it’s better than NO KIDNEYS! Hope this helps someone!

  • Donna Steigleder moderator
    10 months ago

    Heart and kidney problems also have swollen feet as a warning sign of trouble. If you have significant swelling, it’s a good idea to have your doctor determine the exact source; to be safe. Some additional treatments include: elevating your feet above the level of your heart; lowering sodium/salt intake and soaking in warm Epsom salt baths for 20 minutes. Donna Steigleder

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    10 months ago

    Thanks, Donna. –Kim

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