Men and women alike can suffer from swollen hands and feet due to edema, but it is especially common in pregnant women, specifically in the hot summer months. If you are pregnant during the summer, chances are pretty good that you will experience edema.
Swollen extremities and general water retention can be uncomfortable and difficult to manage, especially while pregnant, which is why it’s crucial to know a few ways to deal with the problem should it arise at any point during your pregnancy.
Although changes to your body can be alarming while pregnant, edema is generally more of a discomfort than a threat. There are a number of ways to not reduce not only the swelling but also the accompanying pain you may feel as a result of the water retention. Read on to find out everything you need to know about edema, including how to prevent and treat the symptoms.
16 What is Edema?
Edema, also known as water retention, is a condition where fluid accumulates under the skin. This type of water retention is most common in the feet and legs, but can happen anywhere in the body, even internally. Puffy and swollen skin are the main indicators of edema.
This type of swelling can be uncomfortable and affect your ability to move the body parts in which it surrounds. The lower region of the body and more specifically the ankles and feet are the most common areas affected. Gravity pulls the swelling and fluid downward. Therefore to combat many cases of edema, we must fight gravity as well.
15 Causes of Swelling During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, women circulate about 50% more blood and bodily fluids than they normally would. The pressure of your growing uterus also puts extra pressure on your pelvic veins and the vena cava, which transports blood from your lower body back to your heart. This pressure slows the rate at which your body returns the blood from your legs back to your heart, causing it to pool in your feet and/or ankles.
As the extra blood pools in your lower limbs, the fluid from your veins is forced into the tissue of your feet since it has nowhere else to go. This can cause swelling and discomfort.
Pregnant women suffering from edema generally experience swelling in the feet, calves, ankles, hands and face. If you are experiencing symptoms of edema, you’re not alone. About 75% of pregnant women experience edema at some point in their pregnancy, typically beginning between weeks 22-27 and sometimes lasting until birth.
14 What are the Risks?
Typically, edema induced swelling of the ankles and feet is completely normally during pregnancy. It’s also normal to experience no swelling at all. However, if swelling in areas of your body lasts for more than a day, comes on suddenly, or is accompanied by changes in urine output, blood pressure, or vision there could be a deeper problem.
Water retention accompanied by headaches, exhaustion and/or digestive problems could also indicate more than the typical case of edema. These symptoms in any combination could indicate potential problems with your kidneys, heart, or lungs. Edema can also be a symptom of preeclampsia.
It’s always best to err on the side of caution and visit your doctor to rule out any of these conditions if you experience these symptoms.
13 Avoid Long Periods of Sitting or Standing
Standing or sitting for long periods of time worsens the swelling in your feet and ankles as gravity pulls more fluid into your lower extremities. It is important to elevate your feet whenever is possible to alleviate the damage caused by gravity.
If you are required to sit at a desk all day at work make sure you stretch out your limbs, don’t cross your legs and consider bringing in a stool to elevate your feet throughout the day. Short walks are also a great way to prevent the blood from pooling in your feet and ankles. Staying sedentary will always worsen swelling in the feet so try to move whenever you can.
12 Elevate Your Feet
Since gravity will force more fluid to pool in your lower extremities, it is crucial to elevate your feet whenever possible. When your feet are elevated, the fluid has more areas to disperse, which will alleviate the severe swelling in your feet and ankles.
You can use a stool to prop your feet up at work or a coffee table when you’re at home. Regardless of how busy you are, it is crucial to elevate your feet if you want the swelling in your feet to go down. No one has a better excuse for kicking up his or her feet than a pregnant lady so find any surface you can and kick ‘em up!
11 Sleep on Your Side
You likely spend between seven to eight hours in your bed sleeping each night. This is a significant amount of time, which is why your sleep position can affect your water retention.
To prevent symptoms of edema try sleeping on your left side. This is the best position that you can be in to promote the function of your kidneys, which are responsible for waste elimination. Your body considers excess water as waste, so if your kidneys are functioning properly your swelling is likely to decrease.
10 Wear Comfortable Shoes and Clothing
Dressing a growing baby belly can be a challenging task. It’s possible you may even try to squeeze into your pre-maternity clothes long after they fit. Although the urge to hold off on maternity clothes can be strong, especially for financial reasons it’s crucial that you buy some.
Wearing properly fitted, comfortable clothing will ease the symptoms of edema, as your body will be able to breathe and circulate fluids more efficiently. Properly fitting shoes are also important as many pregnant women experience most of their swelling in their feet.
You may even want to buy a few pairs of shoes that are a size bigger than normal so that your feet have the room to swell during the day. No matter what type of shoe you wear during the day, make sure to remove them once you get home and opt for comfortable slippers to ease any discomfort.
9 Try Support Stockings
The last thing you probably want to do is squeeze your swollen legs and feet into tight stockings, but it may be the best way to eliminate swelling. Most maternity stores have support stockings specifically designed for women suffering from edema. Support stockings are a great way to prevent edema related swelling before it starts.
Put the stockings on in the morning before your legs and feet have had the opportunity to swell. This will prevent your legs and feet from swelling later on in the day. The stockings come in knee-highs, thigh-highs and full on pantyhose.
8 Exercise or Take a Swim
As mentioned previously, being sedentary is the worst thing you can do for swollen feet. Although exercising with swollen feet may be uncomfortable at first, it will help get your blood moving out of your feet, which will ultimately make you feel better. If your feet are too swollen to fit into your runners, try swimming.
Not only does simply getting into the cold water help ease the pain associated with swelling, but the water is also beneficial for the root of your discomfort as well. The water pressure can force excess fluid out of your tissues and back into your veins. Once the fluid is back in your veins it travels to your kidneys where you are able to eliminate it through your urine.
Make sure to check with your doctor before you go swimming to make sure it’s okay for your pregnancy.
7 Drink Lots of Water
It may seem counterintuitive to drink lots of water whilst your body is retaining excess fluid, but it’s absolutely crucial. As you drink water, your body will actually get rid of more water and other waste products, which can reduce swelling significantly.
Pregnant women should generally drink more water than the average person, especially when experiencing signs of edema. Aim to drink about 10 cups of water a day to avoid edema symptoms. As a bonus, drinking excess water will also help to flush out any excess salt you may have ingested.
6 Avoid Salt
Excess salt can cause you to retain more water, which worsens edema symptoms. Even though you can certainly taste when something is salty, that is not always a reliable way to determine the level of salt in your food. Reading food labels is crucial to reducing your salt intake.
A quick way to ensure a decrease in your sodium intake is to avoid processed foods altogether. Fast food chains and restaurants are notorious for over-salting even the healthiest item on the menu.
Additionally, you will want to add more potassium-rich foods such as bananas, sweet potatoes or oranges to your diet. Potassium helps flush out excess sodium, so if you’re baby absolutely can’t do without those salt and vinegar chips, a banana can help bring your sodium levels back to normal.
5 Avoid Heat
Summer pregnancies can, not only be really uncomfortable but are also a main cause of edema. Heat causes your veins to dilate, which allows the fluid in your veins to leak out into surrounding body tissue. The widening of blood vessels is your body’s way of trying to keep cool and is completely normal, but it most certainly can aggravate symptoms of edema.
When the fluids leak from your veins into your tissues it’s harder to get back up to your heart especially because gravity is naturally pulling the fluid down. It can be hard to avoid the heat all together in the summer months, but if you are suffering from edema it’s a good idea to limit your time outside. Take cold baths or showers, go swimming or keep a cool cloth on your neck while in the heat.
Some essential oils have been shown to help reduce swelling. Cypress oil, in particular, is shown to help with circulation. Improved circulation means your bodily fluids will move around your body more efficiently, which can reduce swelling.
Add one or two drops of cypress essential oil to a normal massage oil and massage into the areas affected by swelling. You will want to massage from the foot upward in order to promote the fluid to leave your lower extremities and travel up towards your organs where it can then be removed as waste.
If you are experiencing severe swelling and this is too painful, you can also simply soak your feet in a bath with a few drops of essential oil. Make sure you consult with your doctor prior to using new essential oils, as some are harmful during pregnancy.
3 Herbal Remedies
Although it is best to drink herbal teas in moderation during pregnancy, some teas can help your body eliminate waste. Dandelion tea may prevent fluid retention in your body due to its high potassium content. The potassium in dandelion tea may give it diuretic properties, which means it can increase elimination of waste through urine, which in turn could help decrease swelling.
As with all herbal remedies, it is best to check with your doctor before use to rule out pre existing allergies or other complications.
2 Acupressure or Acupuncture
Acupressure or Shiatsu is an ancient form of Japanese therapy where pressure is applied to different areas of the body to improve the flow of energy and fluids. It can increase circulation, relax muscles, increase the flow of nutrients and promote the removal of waste in the body.
In this school of thought, edema is attributed to inefficient kidney or liver function. Therefore, acupressure for edema would focus on stimulating the kidneys or liver to work more efficiently. This treatment would help to restore proper levels of water in the body and eliminate symptoms of edema.
1 Postpartum Edema
If you’re thinking that your edema will go away after childbirth, you might want to think again, as it doesn’t always go away after childbirth.
Your body will need time (typically one week) to eliminate the excess bodily fluid you accumulated during your pregnancy, As your kidneys work hard to bring your fluid levels back to normal, you’ll likely experience increased swelling. You may also notice that you sweat more during this period of time, as your skin works to eliminate excess fluid as well.
Postpartum swelling is very rarely a cause of concern and will typically go away on its own. However, if the swelling doesn’t go down after a week or you experience leg pain or headaches you may be experiencing high blood pressure, in which case you should contact your doctor for treatment.
Additionally, if the swelling is painful and only in one leg contact your doctor, as it may be a sign of a serious blood clot.
As long as you follow the tips listed above the discomfort and level of swelling due to edema can be easily managed, so worry not it won’t last forever!