It's Hot!! Why do my hands and feet swell?

Who experiences swelling or fluid retention when it gets hot (like right now!), especially around the feet and ankles?  While annoying and uncomfortable, it can also be common due to your body’s natural cooling mechanism.  However swelling can be aggravated by other factors such as mobility, and general functioning.

When your body is hot, your blood vessels dilate (expand) which allows fluid to leak into the surrounding tissues. This is normal as your body tries to cool itself. However sometimes your veins and lymphatic system have trouble getting that extra fluid back towards the heart, especially with gravity working against these ‘return’ systems – this is why fluid pools in your feet and ankles (and even your hands when down by your side), and results in swelling and discomfort.

Heat related swelling and fluid retention is not typically serious; however there are certain risk factors that can make swelling worse:

· Certain medical conditions including severe lung, kidney, liver and heart disease

· Being a bit older or aged -  often the circulation isn’t as effective due to a decrease in mobility and vascular efficiency

· Pregnant women – there is an extra strain on the vascular system due to the pregnancy itself, and also due to the mum’s weight increase

· People who are very overweight or who have poor mobility – poorer circulation due to decreased muscle pump action / movement

· People who stand or sit in one place for too long – decreased circulation

· Previous damage to the lymphatic system ie cancer surgery – for some this can result in the condition of Lymphoedema

Luckily there are ways that we can easily manage swelling or fluid retention ourselves, and also with the help of trained therapists when appropriate:

1.       Elevation

Especially for those with swollen feet and ankles, put them up on pillows or a chair to counter the effects of gravity – this allows blood and fluid to return to the heart more easily

2.       Movement / Exercise

Stop being a couch potato!  Start walking, and get that heel /toe action happening. Your calf muscle plays a big role in pumping fluid back towards the heart against gravity, which helps to improve the efficiency of your circulation!

3.       Keep hydrated

If you don’t drink enough water it can make the salt concentration in your blood go up, which in turn makes your body retain any water that you do drink, which causes swelling! So drink up!

4.       Compression garments

Especially relevant for those that have persistent swelling, and who still get swelling when it’s cooler, or if they have slow healing wounds that just can’t seem to heal.

5.       Manual Lymphatic Drainage / Lymphatic Massage

The lymphatic system works with the veins to remove fluid from the tissues. The gentle ‘massage’ of lymphatic drainage helps to stimulate the efficiency of the lymphatic system to remove excess fluid and reduce the inflammatory load within the tissues. And you feel lighter and less congested afterwards!  You need a trained therapist for this massage.