Wisdom Wednesday: Edema

Edema (aka swelling!)

Although temperatures in Chicago are finally starting to cool down, if you’re pregnant, especially if you’re in the third trimester, you may be noticing that your hands and feet (and maybe even your face or legs) have been swollen, particularly at the end of the day.

About 75% of pregnant women experience edema, or swelling, during pregnancy. In fact, the changes going on with your body, particularly during the second and third trimesters, are a perfect recipe for swelling. For one, your blood volume has increased to support your growing baby. Second, the increasingly heavy uterus puts pressure on the pelvic veins and vena cava (the giant vein that returns blood from your legs and feet to your heart). In short, your body is having more trouble returning blood and fluid to where it belongs, so it is collecting in the tissues of your hands and feet.

Other than removing rings and avoiding shoes that are too tight, you're probably wondering what to do about swelling during pregnancy.

  • Try not to sit or stand for long periods. Walking helps the blood and fluid to circulate.
  • Elevate your legs and feet when you are sitting so that your body doesn’t have to work so hard to return blood and fluid to your heart.
  • Exercise: walking or swimming are particularly comfortable for most women during pregnancy (of course, ask your health care provider before beginning a new routine)
  • Comfy shoes and support hose
  • Drink lots of water: it seems counterintuitive, but water actually helps to flush out excess sodium which may contribute to swelling.
  • Eat healthy: avoiding too much processed food will also keep salt intake under control. You don’t need to limit your salt intake, just try not to add excessive amounts or eat out too frequently.

When to be concerned

Most of the time, swelling is just a normal part of pregnancy that is worse when you’ve been sitting or standing a lot or when the weather is exceptionally warm. However, there are times when swelling can be concerning. If swelling seems to not improve overnight, or comes on suddenly, or you have symptoms of high blood pressure (such as a headache), your provider may want to ensure you are not developing pre-eclampsia.