9 Weird Reasons Your Body Suddenly Feels Swollen

Updated: Feb. 01, 2021

Face, feet, or even tongue suddenly swollen? Experts share why this happens, what you can do, and when you should worry.

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packets of artificial sweetener

You’re eating artificial sweeteners

Enjoy the sweet stuff in those pink, yellow, or blue packets? That could be what causes swelling, says Karen Bentley, author of The Sugar-Free Miracle™ Diet Handbook, who resides in the greater Boston area. She points to a study in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, which pulled data from the Nurses’ Health Study, involving over 3,300 women and showed that two or more servings of diet soda (which contain artificial sweeteners) a day could lead to up to a 30 percent decrease in kidney function. When kidney function is compromised, there’s less fluid in blood vessels, she explains. The result: You’re prone to body swelling. Your best bet, according to Bentley, is to refrain from eating or drinking items that contain saccharin, aspartame, or sucralose. Diet soda can also slow your metabolism.

measuring spoons, one filled with sugar

You’re insulin resistant

Bentley explains that if you have insulin resistance, which is commonly linked with type 2 diabetes, you may experience body swelling. “In her book Suicide by Sugar, sugar expert Nancy Appleton, PhD, explains that insulin resistance causes the body to retain sodium,” Bentley says. “This causes the body to retain more fluid and swell,” she adds. If you have insulin resistance, now’s the time to get into a good exercise routine, maintain healthy blood pressure, lower stress, and get the sleep you need, advises the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Here are 13 natural remedies for gout pain and swelling.

woman washing her face over a sink

You’re cleaning your face all wrong

An improper skincare routine could be what causes swelling in your face, says Jonathan Kantor, MD, medical director at the Florida Center for Dermatology in Augustine, FL. “Sometimes, swelling on the face can be caused by being too rough on the skin, whether from using a loofah, harsh cleansers, or astringents,” he says. In these cases, less is more. Dr. Kantor suggests using a very gentle facial cleanser, washing with your hands (no washcloth or scrubbing device), and maintaining a hands-off (do-not-pick) policy.

plate of Asian noodles

You’re going heavy on the salt

Overdid it on the Chinese food over the weekend? Dr. Kantor says indulging in too much salt and MSG (both of which are very common in processed and commercially prepared foods) can cause body swelling. Regardless of swelling, it’s smart to cut back on foods with a high salt and MSG content, per the American Heart Association (AHA). The organization suggests that adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) of sodium daily; ideally, they recommend 1,500 mg per day as a good limit. Go easy on pre-packaged and processed foods which are laden with sodium, per the AHA. Don’t miss these 9 daily habits that could help you reduce bloating.

Dentist working on a patient

You ignore dental issues

Don’t put off that dentist appointment. “Lower face swelling, particularly when it’s on one side, can be caused by dental abscesses. So never let a cavity go untreated,” Dr. Kantor says. Your visits to the dentist aren’t just about cleanings and X-rays. Dental experts often check for a host of health issues, ranging from problems that can cause your face to swell to serious conditions like oral cancer, the American Dental Association says.

bundled up person with wool mittens holding a mug

Your shoes and gloves are too snug

Sometimes, swelling is an emergency symptom. Swelling, along with fatigue and shortness of breath, can be indicative of heart failure, says Michael Miller, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and the author of Heal Your Heart. However, he also says there are plenty of other explanations for what causes swelling. “Perhaps the most common cause of foot, ankle, and hand swelling (outside of injury) is wearing shoes, socks, or gloves that are too tight due to constriction of blood flow,” says Dr. Miller. Choose options that fit well.

people standing in line outdoors

You’ve been on your feet for long periods of time

Standing in line for hours waiting for must-have concert tickets or walking around more than usual? Don’t be surprised if you notice some leg swelling. Dr. Miller says that this can happen when you stand for hours on end and may be exacerbated by vein weakness (venous incompetence) and varicose veins. Fluid buildup in the legs can also be caused by inactivity or being overweight, says the Mayo Clinic. Here are the 10 signs of disease that your feet can predict.

pills spilling out of a bottle

You take common pain relievers or medications

Ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can lead to swelling brought on by fluid retention, says Dr. Miller. He adds that medications designed to treat high blood pressure (amlodipine) and diabetes (pioglitazone) can also contribute to fluid retention-related swelling. The same goes for antidepressants. Check with your doctor to see if any medications you’re taking could be contributing to swelling.

doctor giving advice to a patient

The swelling is something more serious

Sometimes, your swelling may be an indication of something more serious. A red flag symptom is one-sided swelling. Swelling in a single extremity—in which trauma is not a factor—could be a sign of a skin infection or even a blood clot, says Dr. Miller. Swelling in one leg could indicate prostate cancer; swelling in that instance often occurs when there’s a lymphatic blockage, he says. It could also be caused by DVT (deep vein thrombosis), which is a medical emergency, adds Dr. Kantor. Next, learn why heart failure causes swollen feet.