Can Swollen Feet Be a Symptom of Diabetes?

The link between swollen feet and diabetes

There are many causes of swollen feet, but if you have diabetes, or chronic high blood sugar, swollen feet are a common symptom. Here's a look at why diabetes can be linked to swollen feet, what it may say about your health, what you can do it about, and when it's time to see a healthcare provider.

Person with swollen feet putting on shoe

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What Are Swollen Feet?

The medical term for swelling from excess fluid in your body is edema. When your feet swell, it's called peripheral edema, and it can make them feel heavy and achy.

Your skin may look shiny, and if you press it, the indentation may remain, which is called pitting. If you have a small cut or sore on your swollen feet, some of the excess fluid may ooze from it.

Can Swollen Feet Be a Medical Emergency?

Swelling in one leg can be a sign of a blood clot that can be life-threatening and needs immediate medical attention. Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you have swelling in one leg that feels tender and looks red.

Are Swollen Feet a Symptom of Diabetes?

Several aspects of diabetes can cause swollen feet and ankles. If your blood sugar isn't well-controlled, it can affect your blood circulation and nervous system, both of which can lead to edema. Longer-term complications of diabetes like heart or kidney problems can also cause swelling.

Here are the most common causes of swollen feet from diabetes:

  • Poor circulation
  • Blood clots
  • Certain medications

Poor Circulation

Over time, high blood sugar damages the lining of the blood vessels. The small valves that stop the blood from flowing downward due to gravity can start to leak, which is called venous insufficiency. The blood pools in the lower legs, and that makes your feet and ankles swell.

Nerve damage from high blood sugar can also reduce feeling. If you don't have pain from a sore or wound, you might overlook it, and it can cause more fluid build-up as the body tries to heal the area.

Blood Clots

People with diabetes are more prone to develop a kind of blood clot called a deep vein thrombosis, which can make your feet swell. Blood clots can be dangerous because if they break loose, they can travel to your lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, which can be life-threatening. Blood clots usually cause swelling in just one leg.

Medications

Certain medications that treat type 2 diabetes may cause swollen feet or legs as a side effect. These include:

Treatment and Management of Swollen Feet

Keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range with diet, exercise, and medication (if needed) are good ways to lower the risk of swollen feet from diabetes. Tips to reduce swelling inlcude:

  • Keep your feet up, so the fluid flows away from your feet.
  • Wear compression hose to keep fluid from pooling in your lower legs.
  • Exercise, which will stimulate your circulation.
  • Lower your salt intake, which can help you retain less water.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If your feet and ankles start to swell and you have diabetes, take note if it tends to go away overnight when your legs are raised. If it doesn't, call a healthcare provider if the swelling lasts more than a day or two. It can be a sign that your blood sugar is too high and you may need a change in treatment.

If you see swelling in one leg, you need immediate medical attention, because you may have a blood clot that can be life-threatening. Call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Summary

Swollen feet are a common symptom of diabetes. High blood sugar can affect your blood vessels, which can allow fluid to pool in your feet and ankles. It can also damage the nerves so you may not notice foot injuries. As your body tries to heal them, that can add to fluid build-up.

Blood clots (which can be dangerous) and certain medications may also add to swelling due to diabetes. Exercise and putting your feet up can help swelling. Working with your healthcare team to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range is your best bet to avoid retaining fluid.

A Word From Verywell

Swollen feet can feel tired and achy, and managing diabetes can be a chore. The picture has changed for the better, though. New devices can make monitoring blood sugar and delivering insulin much less demanding, and new treatments lower the risk of complications. Plus, a healthy lifestyle can go a long way toward keeping you going strong, despite diabetes.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are swollen feet and ankles a sign of diabetes?

    Swollen feet and ankles are common symptoms of diabetes, but there can be many other causes. Check with a healthcare provider if your feet stay swollen for more than a day or two.

  • What causes swelling in people with diabetes?

    There are several reasons for swelling if you have diabetes. Blood vessel damage is common, which can cause blood to pool. High blood sugar can also lead to nerve damage, which can be linked to swelling. Heart and kidney conditions that are associated with diabetes may also cause swelling.

  • Does diabetes cause foot pain?

    Diabetes itself doesn't cause foot pain, but the swelling and nerve damage that high blood sugar can cause can make your feet hurt. If your feet lack feeling due to nerve damage, you may not notice sores that would otherwise be painful. Check your feet daily if you have diabetes and signs of nerve damage or sores.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hillson R. Lower limb oedema in diabetes. Pract Diab. 2017;34(8):266-267. doi:10.1002/pdi.2133

  2. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Causes and signs of edema

  3. Diabetes.co.uk. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

  4. American Diabetes Association. I am managing foot issues.

By Nancy LeBrun
In addition to her extensive health and wellness writing, Nancy has written about many general interest topics for publications as diverse as Newsweek, Teen Vogue, abcnews.com, and Craftsmanship Quarterly. She has authored a book about documentary filmmaking, a screenplay about a lost civil rights hero, and ghostwritten several memoirs.