Ever wondered why increased glucose levels cause swelling in the legs and feet? 

Well, a prevalent chronic metabolic condition, diabetes, has risen drastically worldwide, with 10.5% of the population being affected by it. What’s more surprising is that almost half of them are unaware of the condition. With a lot of complications, this hyperglycemic disorder also comes with diabetic foot swelling, which is an accumulation of fluid in the tissues. 

It can occur due to multiple reasons that further cause pain and interfere with a person’s mobility. So, to know how diabetes is linked with swelling of feet, head down below! 

Diabetes and Swollen Foot

Diabetes mellitus is considered the fastest-growing condition, predicted to affect around 693 million people by 2045. This metabolic disorder interferes with the body’s ability to process energy from food. When you take a meal, your body breaks down glucose and releases it in the blood, causing a spike in sugar. To normalize the sugar levels, your pancreas releases a hormone called insulin.

However, if your pancreas is unable to release sufficient insulin or your body stops responding to the insulin, it leads to diabetes.

Although many health conditions trigger fluid retention, diabetic foot swelling results from uncontrollable sugar levels in the blood, damaging the blood vessels and causing difficulty fighting back infections. This allows bacteria to thrive in the foot, as sugar is the ideal medium for their growth. Diabetes-swollen feet can accompany other symptoms, like skin discoloration, pain or discomfort, restricted mobility, and slow wound or injury healing.

Causes of Diabetic Foot Swelling

Here are a few common causes of diabetic foot swelling:

  • Impaired Blood Circulation: High glucose damages the inner lining of blood vessels, resulting in poor blood circulation. This further causes your ankles and feet to swell.
  • Neuropathy: Hyperglycemia can also damage the nerves in your lower limbs, making it difficult to identify any injury that leads to edema. A bone deformity associated with diabetes called the Charcot’s foot is also responsible for causing swelling that affects the joints and bones of the ankle and feet. 
  • Cardiovascular Condition: People who suffer from diabetes are at higher risk of developing hypertension (increased level of blood pressure) as well as congestive heart failure, which leads to diabetic feet swelling.
  • Renal Diseases: Diabetes causes renal diseases, and as your kidney regulates fluid, its disrupted function can lead to edema.
  • Medications: Many drugs like antihypertensive, NSAID, and other medicines that are used in treating diabetes and nerve pain have side effects that trigger edema. 
  • Insulin Edema Syndrome: People with poorly controlled diabetes sometimes experience a very rare condition called insulin edema syndrome. This occurs in the initial stages, beginning with insulin therapy. This is more common in young adults with type I diabetes mellitus. 

Edema occurs due to increased vessel permeability and salt retention by the kidneys. This kind of edema is mild and usually affects the lower limbs.

Other factors that contribute to diabetic foot swelling include obesity and venous insufficiency. 

How to Treat Diabetic Foot Swelling

To treat swollen ankles, diabetes should stay in control, and you should introduce lifestyle modification. 

However, you can follow the tips given below to manage swelling.

Compression Stockings:

Wearing compression stockings would help maintain pressure in your swollen ankles and feet. Too tight stockings can lead to impaired blood flow. Therefore, it is important to begin wearing light compression stockings.

Wearing stockings with mild compression of about (18-25 mmHg) during the day reduces edema in diabetic patients due to sufficient arterial circulation. 

Decrease Intake of Salt:

Too much salt is responsible for triggering foot swelling. Therefore, it is recommended not to take more than 2300 mg/day according to US dietary guidelines for Americans. 


In severe cases, diuretics are required to manage foot swelling.

However, magnesium supplements have been shown to maintain glucose levels and nerve function. Magnesium deficiency can be a cause of fluid retention in many cases. 

Feet Elevation

Elevation above heart level can reduce foot swelling and diabetes complications, as this will stop fluid retention in your foot. 

Staying Hydrated

Dehydration can further trigger fluid accumulation. So, drinking more water helps in removing toxins through urination. 

However, before opting for increased fluid intake, consult a doctor, as foot swelling can be due to some other health conditions. 

Soaking Your Feet In Epsom Salt

Magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salt, helps in relieving pain and inflammation. You can add Epsom salt to the footbath and soak your feet to reduce swelling.

If you are already suffering from diabetic neuropathy, it is recommended to monitor the water temperature to prevent foot injury.

How To Prevent Diabetic Feet Swelling

If you are hyperglycemic and at risk of developing diabetic foot swelling, then there are ways that can stop or prevent the retention of fluid.  

Adequate Dietary Intake 

It is considered that eating sugar is the main cause of diabetes. Although sugar is the enemy of diabetic patients yet, they can enjoy sugar within limits. 

Taking low glycemic index food does not cause a spike of glucose in your bloodstream; therefore, you can bring food with low GI, which includes fruits and veggies. 

Avoiding processed food like cookies and all baking items, as well as soft drinks can prevent uncontrollable hyperglycemia and, ultimately, diabetic foot swelling. 

Including Exercise in Your Routine

Physical activity is important for regulating glucose levels in the body. It also prevents obesity, which is one of the main causes of diabetes mellitus. Aerobic exercise of moderate intensity for about 150 to 300 minutes is recommended to reduce the risk of developing diabetes and significantly improve insulin sensitivity, thus reducing the chances of developing complications like diabetic foot swelling. 

A two-minute walk after a meal is the best walk for diabetes patients in order to regulate glucose spikes. 

Avoid Sedentary Lifestyle

If you have a job that requires a long period of sitting, then it is important to walk around and include physical activity in your regular life to prevent swelling and edema.

Manage Weight

Keep an eye on your weight as obesity leads to diabetes and its complications like edema. Moderate weight loss of around 5 to 10% is found to improve cholesterol levels and glycemic control.

Obesity is one of the main reasons for diabetes type II as it leads to insulin resistance as well as dysfunction of pancreatic cells. 

How to Take Care of Your Foot?

It is important to take good care of your feet, especially if you are diabetic and your sugar levels are uncontrollable. You can follow the below-mentioned tips to prevent yourself from diabetic complications.

  • Monitor your feet regularly. Check for corns and callus formations or signs of skin discoloration. 
  • Keep your feet clean by washing them regularly.
  • Prevent your feet from exposing to extreme temperatures. 
  • Quit smoking and adopt a healthy lifestyle. 
  • Monitor your sugar levels daily.

When Should You Consult Your Doctor

Neglecting feet while having diabetes can lead to serious medical emergencies. Suppose you have been experiencing diabetic foot swelling for a long time, and there seems to be no prognosis even after following the above-mentioned tips to manage swollen feet. In that case, it’s time to consult your healthcare provider for a complete assessment.

Consult your doctor immediately If you experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • There is pain along with pressure in your feet that tends to be intermittent or constant.
  • You feel difficulty and experience discomfort while moving.
  • There is numbness in your feet or a sensation of tingling (which can be a sign of neuropathy).
  • There is discoloration, and the skin feels shiny.
  • If you feel pain when touching the soles of swollen feet, this must be an underlying sign of an ulcer. Unaddressed callus formation can also lead to ulceration. If you notice any callus formation, change your shoes. If it keeps returning, consult a podiatrist to remove it surgically.
  • Fluid retention in your feet and legs can also lead to fluid accumulation in your lungs. In that case, you may experience dyspnea (shortness of breath) along with a cough.
  •  You notice tissue scarring or red streaks running superficially on the toes and laterally along the feet.
  • Take care of your toenails, as ingrown nails can get infected and go out of notice due to decreased sensations. Check out for redness or swelling, and see your doctor if you see an ingrown toenail.

Chest pain and shortness of breath are medical emergencies that can be due to pulmonary embolism or even heart attacks; therefore, stay in contact with your doctor and keep track of your feet health regularly.

Bottom Line

Swelling and edema in the lower extremities can occur for various reasons. Diabetes is also one of the main causes and can lead to multiple complications if left untreated. Diabetic foot swelling is usually the result of poor blood supply in the lower extremities. However, many conditions, such as cardiovascular, renal diseases, or even insulin therapy, can also contribute to it. Continuous glucose monitoring is essential to prevent diabetic complications.

You can follow the tips mentioned in this write-up to manage swelling, but if the swelling persists, it is recommended to see your doctor to rule out any underlying conditions.


This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Abraham Parker, nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.

Published On: April 15th, 2024 / Categories: Blood sugar monitoring, Diabetes management tips / Tags: , , /