What causes oedema in pregnancy and how do I treat it?

the causes, risks, treaments and remedies for swelling of the feet hands and ankles during pregnancy, known as oedema or edema

by Catriona Watson |

Pregnancy side effects, who'd have 'em? The list is basically endless and most of them, let's face it, are less than pleasant.

You might be lucky and get some of the good ones like glowing skin or increased sex drive, but you won't be able to dodge some of the main culprits like morning sicknessindigestion or migraines. It's not surprising that women also suffer from stress during pregnancy with this list of nasties. One incredibly common and unsightly side effect of pregnancy is oedema. It is thought 80% of pregnant women suffer from it, but what exactly is it?

What is oedema?

Oedema is the scientific term for swelling. Sufferers of oedema can experience swollen legs, feet, ankles, hands and even a swollen face. Swelling during pregnancy is very common and although it is unpleasant and uncomfortable, it is generally harmless. If you have concerns about swelling (see below) it is always best to contact your doctor.

What causes oedema?

Swelling is caused by the excess water that your body is holding onto during pregnancy. During a normal and healthy pregnancy, 'total body water increases by 6 to 8 litres' according to Kidney International Supplements. The water tends to be held in the lower parts of the body, such as the feet or legs, especially if you are standing up regularly.

Swelling is often worse during hot weather. When you overheat, your body attempts to cool you down by expanding your veins which allows fluid to leak into the surrounding areas. Sadly for you, the evenings can be worse too. As the day goes on, gravity means fluid is drawn downwards and it will continue to pool in your lower half.

Swelling can also be influenced by changes in blood flow. Blood circulation is slowed down during pregnancy and the growth of your womb often puts pressure on your blood vessels in your pelvis which may also cause fluid to build up.

How to prevent, treat and deal with swelling during pregnancy:

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1) Wear comfortable shoes

As swelling often occurs in the lower half of your body it is important you wear sensible and comfortable shoes. This will hopefully minimise the chances of swelling and prevent any unecessary aches and pains.

When should you worry about oedema?

Complications with swelling are rare and swelling is useless harmless so do not worry too much if you have this common pregnancy symptom. However, if you have a sudden increase in swelling or it becomes severe you should contact your doctor.

Severe or sudden swelling may be a sign of more serious conditions, like pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is an uncommon condition that pregnant women often suffer with during the second half of pregnancy or after giving birth. ‘Pre-eclampsia can cause a combination of high blood pressure (hypertension) and protein in your urine (proteinuria),’ says Shreelata Datta, an obstetrician at St Helier Hospital in Surrey.

If you do have a pre-eclampsia, your blood pressure will need to be monitored by a health professional throughout your pregnancy. An app was also recently released, recommended by the NHS, to help women monitor their blood pressure from home to prevent unnecessary trips to the hospital. Check to see if this is available where you are.

If it feels as if only one leg is swollen and it becomes hot, this could be due to a blood cot. Blood clots, most often in the leg are also called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Look out for these symptoms:

  • Swelling, tenderness or pain ONE of your legs

  • A hot or warm feeling in the affected area

  • Red skin in the affected area

If you think DVT is causing your swelling, you should contact your doctor as you need to be treated as soon as possible.

How do you cope with swelling during pregnancy? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

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