Lymphedema is a serious health problem. But many people don’t know that. Instead, they might think they just have cankles. Now, for those of you who aren’t aware, cankles is a term used to describe wide or swollen ankles–the swelling eliminates a distinction between your calves and ankles (hence the name.) Sometimes, people complain about elephant legs. This is another sign of lymphedema, but it just means the swelling extends beyond your ankle. (It’s also a sign that you’ve entered the last, and most dangerous, stage of lymphedema.) While many women, and some men, complain about the way their cankles or legs look, it turns out that they could both be a sign of more serious health issues.
What Causes My Ankles to Swell?
Swollen, puffy ankles are symptoms of several potentially serious vein conditions. For that reason, you should see your doctor at the first signs of lymphedema. That’s the only way to prevent serious complications.
When your veins struggle to send blood back from your extremities to your heart, it’s known as venous insufficiency. In this condition, the blood that doesn’t flow properly can pool in your leg veins. Varicose veins or deep vein thrombosis (DVT, a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of your legs) are also warning signs of Venous Insufficiency.
Symptoms of VI include:
- Swelling of the legs or ankles
- Painful, heavy legs
- Thicker skin on the legs and ankles
- Color changes in the skin around your ankles
Swelling in the legs (edema) can occur when fluid becomes trapped in the soft tissues of the leg, typically because of malfunctioning valves in your veins. When the valves in your leg veins begin to weaken, or fail, the blood can no longer be pumped out of the legs properly. This causes fluid and blood to become trapped there and, as the fluid begins to build up, the leg may begin to swell. The term for the buildup of fluid which leads to swelling in the body is edema.
Lymphedema is a form of chronic edema that occurs when the body’s lymphatic system does not function properly. It is not the same as edema caused by vein disease, although vein disease can eventually progress into a combined venous/lymphatic disorder. As with swelling in the lower legs, lymphedema requires the attention of a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Other signs of lymphedema include progressive symptoms. In the later stages of disease, you may also not some “pillow” swelling in your foot. If it’s caused by Lymphedema, it won’t go away after sleeping. Another sign is called Stemmer’s symptom. This is when you can’t fold the skin on the back of your second toe. Also, your skin will likely appear pale. And the swelling will reach the middle of your lower leg, but won’t hit your thigh. (This is when we start to hear about elephant legs.) Finally, you may develop fibrosis, when the skin on your leg becomes thicker and hardens.
How and When to Treat Your Cankles
While some forms of cankles are just the result of fatty buildups in your bodies, when they are a sign of a vein problem, treating the underlying issue may also improve the look of your lower legs. When it comes to purely cosmetic treatments, that is a personal choice, but when treating your cankles could actually save your veins from further damage, it is always a good idea!
Sources: Lymphatic Network