What’s causing those swollen feet? – Harvard Health

This Harvard post reminded me of a question I had received a while ago…2 questions, actually. Here goes the first one

Q: Hello Dr, I have been having swollen legs since I traveled almost 17hrs by air. All tests been done, no fault discovered. What shall I do?

A: Hello dear, thanks for writing in.

Swelling of the legs and feet during flights is common and usually not suggestive of a more serious problem. It happens when blood pools in the leg veins due to long periods of inactivity as can occur during a long-haul flight. This swelling usually lasts for a few hours. If the swelling persists, occurs more in one leg and is associated with leg pain, please see your doctor immediately as it may be suggestive of a more serious problem, like a blood clot in the leg.

I repeat a post I made some years back on preparing for flights. It focuses on preventing the condition you already have. However, if you already have swollen legs due to pooling of blood as described above, rest, elevate and exercise your legs to reduce swelling. Exercise tips are given in the post below.


Dear Diary, you’re probably the only one who really understands how very busy the past few days have been. So, as I race through Lagos traffic towards the airport, I’m actually looking forward to catching up on some much-needed sleep on the plane…

I know quite a number of people who tell me they can’t sleep when they are in a bus, on the plane or in a car. They can’t sleep when there is even a bit of noise, when the curtains are not drawn, when the lights are on or the lights are off! Different variations! Well none of these define me! Once I’m tired, I can sleep anywhere…in the middle of a room filled with noisy children, in a squashed cramped car on a long trip, in the squashed space of a bus, in the tiny economy space of local and international flights and I daresay I can sleep on top of a trailer filled with sacks (I haven’t had this dubious pleasure yet!). In fact, I rather look forward to these trips sometimes because it presents an opportunity to sleep undisturbed. Provided I am travelling alone and not with my family, I am sure that I am unlikely to be disturbed for bathroom breaks, hunger, any sort of telephone call or work emergency. Oh bliss! (Just in case you wondered, I totally, absolutely and completely love my family :D).

So that’s my story. If you’re like me, you would stock up on some good novels to read at some point (when you open your eyes briefly) but if not, you are dreading the 6 or 12 hours (or perhaps even more) flight.

So, plan for it. Whether you’re travelling first, business or economy class, you don’t have to be worn out when you arrive at your destination. If you’re travelling economy, enquire at the booking desk if the flight is full. If it’s not, you could get a seat with empty seats beside you. Almost like flying in business class….albeit devoid of the personal touch, but who cares, right 😉

Wear comfortable and loose-fitting clothes. I’m consistently amazed by slay-queens who dress to the nines complete with high heels when travelling! I’m in awe! 😀

Get comfortable…take off your shoes and….nothing else, please :). This should help minimise discomfort especially if foot swelling occurs. Pressure stockings are also a good idea to help prevent this swelling.

Get a travel pillow…those U-shaped pillows they sell at the airports. They are pretty comfy and prevent you from getting a crick in your neck during that long flight.

Take walks round the cabin every hour or so to help circulation and stop you arriving at your destination with swollen legs/feet. You could use these walks to network and/or catch up with friends/colleagues/business associates who happen to be on the same flight.

For the sleepy heads like me, try some ankle rotation exercises during those small intervals when you are conscious 🙂

Lay off the coffee and alcohol. And drink a lot of water. Yes this may increase your visits to the bathrooms which you really don’t want, what with the long queues of people waiting to use them; but it is much better than getting dehydrated as the air in the cabin is pretty dry and could dehydrate you.

As for the food…perhaps you’re one of those who hate the ‘plastic’ food and laugh at the oyibo’s attempt at jollof rice (I’ve tried explaining to them that the art to cooking jollof rice is only in the gene of Nigerians and jambalaya is not even a close substitute! Please note that the study about the jollof rice-gene interaction has only been carried out in my head…so this is clearly proprietary material right here! :)), then you have no problem because you probably ignore the food. But you could stock up on some nuts (almonds, cashew nuts etc), granola bars, fruits and water to take with you. They are useful during those long lonely hours when you’re waiting for the flight to board and to take onto the plane if you’re going to ‘dis’ (code for disrespect, my son tells me) the food! It’s also most certainly cheaper and healthier than the over-priced airport food which you may be tempted to indulge in. However, if you’re going to indulge, you might want to book online and order the lower calorie options.

Pack some breath mints in your bag. There’s nothing as thoroughly embarrassing…no scratch that! There’s nothing as humiliating as trying to discuss with a business associate who you happened to meet on disembarking from the plane, while trying not to come too close because you know you’ve got morning breath! So be a boy scout! Be prepared!

If you’re, perhaps going for a conference, resist the urge to indulge in all that free food (close your eyes and visualise banquet tables groaning under the weight of all types of food: chocolate fountains, pasta, all kinds of gravy, pastries of different shades and colours, fish, chicken and beef dishes of all kinds!) and look for those healthier alternatives (fruits, salads…not soaked in dressing, quinoa, grilled fish, vegetables etc). Load up on all these…loads of beautiful colours on your plate!

You know all those free books they give you at the conference? Take only the ones you really mean to read. This way you’re not tempted to trash them at the airport when ‘they’ tell you, you’ve got excess luggage! This is becoming a huge ‘international’ joke!

I am actually on my way to a conference and so this advice is as much for you as it is for me! 😀

And the second…
Q: Hello Doc, I want to find out if swollen feet are associated with pregnancy?

A: Good question…and yes, it is normal for the body to tend to retain more fluid during pregnancy apart from the fact that the uterus (womb) as it grows, puts pressure on the veins preventing the proper return of blood to the heart. Increased blood flow and hormonal changes (causing foot ligaments to relax and therefore bones to spread out) may also play roles in this.

To prevent this …or significantly reduce it, try the following:
• Wear comfortable shoes and try not to stay on your feet for too long.
• Kick up your feet and relax as often as you can.
• Exercise helps…gentle stretching and other exercises safe in pregnancy (speak with your doctor where in doubt as to what is safe) help to move the fluid along. In addition, foot exercises, are also great and would include gentle rotation of the ankles.
• Sleep on your side, drink sufficient fluids during the day and limit your salt intake….remember that for salt, if you can taste it, it’s definitely too much

Having said this, some swelling in pregnancy is due to a condition called pre-eclampsia. So, be sure to check with your obstetrician if the swelling observed appears to be sudden or indeed, worrying.

Have a good night, everyone 😀

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