Edema and Related Medical Conditions

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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Extremity Edema During Pregnancy

Why are my ankles and toes so swollen?

What you're experiencing is called edema — that's the medical term for when excess fluid collects in your tissue. It's normal to have a certain amount of this swelling during pregnancy because you retain more water while you're pregnant, and certain changes in your blood chemistry cause some fluid to shift into your tissue.

Why does it collect in the legs and feet? When you're pregnant, your growing uterus puts pressure on your pelvic veins and on your vena cava (a large vein on the right side of your body that receives blood from your lower limbs and carries it back to the heart). The pressure slows down circulation and causes blood to pool in your legs, forcing fluid from your veins into the tissues of your feet and ankles. This increased pressure is relieved when you lie on your side. And since the vena cava is on the right side of your body, left-sided rest works best.

Edema is most likely to be an issue during your third trimester, particularly at the end of the day, and it may be worse during the summer. After you have your baby, the swelling will disappear fairly rapidly as your body eliminates the excess fluid. As a result, you may find yourself urinating frequently and sweating a lot in the first days after childbirth.

When should I be concerned about swelling?

A certain amount of edema is normal in the ankles and feet during pregnancy. You may also have some mild swelling in your hands. However, call your midwife or doctor if you notice swelling in your face or puffiness around your eyes, more than slight swelling of your hands, or excessive or sudden swelling of your feet or ankles. It could be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious condition. Also call your caregiver if you notice that one leg is significantly more swollen than the other, especially if you have any pain or tenderness in your calf or thigh.

Can I do anything to minimize the puffiness?

Here are a few tips:

• Put your feet up whenever possible. At work, it helps to keep a stool or pile of books under your desk; at home, lie on your left side when possible. Don't cross your legs or ankles while sitting.

• Stretch your legs frequently while sitting: Stretch your leg out, heel first, and gently flex your foot to stretch your calf muscles. Rotate your ankles and wiggle your toes.

• Take breaks from sitting or standing. Take a short walk every so often to keep your blood circulating.

• Wear comfortable shoes that stretch to accommodate the swelling. Don't wear socks or stockings with tight bands around your ankles or calves.

• Try waist-high maternity support stockings. Put them on before you get out of bed in the morning, so blood has no chance to pool around your ankles.

• Drink plenty of water. Surprisingly, this helps your body retain less water.

Exercise regularly, especially by walking, swimming, or riding an exercise bike. Or try a water-aerobics class — immersion in water can help reduce swelling, particularly if the water level is up near your shoulders.

Eat well, and avoid junk food.And try not to let it get you down. Although the sight of your swollen ankles will probably add to your feelings of ungainliness, edema is a temporary condition that will pass soon after you give birth.

Baby Center.com

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