Edema

Edema is the medical term for swelling and is very common in pregnancy. Swelling in just one leg could mean a blood clot in the leg which is an emergency. Swelling with high blood pressure and protein in the urine is seen in preeclampsia and is another emergency. Most of the time swelling is a normal part of pregnancy and although it is obnoxious it is not dangerous.

Edema or swelling that is much greater in one leg than the other can be a sign of a DVT or blood clot. This is very dangerous and must be treated immediately. The way to diagnose a blood clot in the leg is with a specialized ultrasound. This does not hurt and is very safe for the pregnant woman and the baby. If not diagnosed and treated, part of the blood clot can break off and go to the lung. This is called pulmonary embolism or PE and can be disastrous. If you notice one leg is very swollen and the other is normal, call your doctor right away or go to the emergency room.

Edema can be a sign of preeclampsia. This is a disease of pregnancy that includes swelling (edema), high blood pressure, and protein in the urine. This is one of the reasons blood pressure and urine is checked at each doctor’s visit.

Most edema in pregnancy is normal. The swelling tends to be worse in the hands in the morning and worse in the feet late in the day. If other symptoms are not present, this is a normal part of pregnancy and not dangerous. Decreased activity, elevation of the legs, and possibly decreased salt intake can help lessen the normal edema of pregnancy.

Another issue to be cautious about, is wearing rings. As the hands swell, it is not unusual for rings to become tight and even get stuck. I advise removing rings at the first sign of swelling. In some cases, fingers can swell enough that rings can cut off circulation to the fingers. The treatment for this is to cut off the ring. So please take your rings off before swelling gets too severe.