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How To Cope With Swelling During Pregnancy

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Pregnant women often suffer from swelling in the ankles, feet and elsewhere. It's uncomfortable, but is it dangerous? Dr. Keith Eddleman, author of Pregnancy for Dummies, explains how to cope with swelling during pregnancy.

I'm Stacey Tisdale for Howdini. When you're pregnant, all sorts of maddening things can happen to your body: swelling, sleeplessness, and even constipation, which can make us very uncomfortable. But there are things that you can do to deal with this. Joining us to discuss those things, Dr. Keith Eddleman, director of obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, and author of two books, including Pregnancy for Dummies. Dr. Eddleman, thank you so much for joining us.

Thanks for having me.

Now tell me, is swelling something that every pregnant woman is going to experience?

Some degree of swelling is common in most pregnant women. Not everybody gets it, but to some degree, yes.

But tell me what kind of swelling is normal. I know a lot of people go into a panic when they see these things happen to their body.

Well, any kind of swelling really is normal, as long as it's not associated with elevations in blood pressure, spilling protein in your urine, or any of the other signs or symptoms that are associated with preeclampsia, which also has swelling as one of the components, and that's when swelling is not normal.

Staying with that for just a moment, when should people start to look for these signs? I know I experienced preeclampsia and there were no signs, there was no swelling prior to my labor.

Swelling that's associated with preeclampsia or toxemia, as it's also known, is sometimes very rapidly progressive. In other words, it's suddenly there. One day it's not there and the next day you're just swollen all over. Typically also, swelling associated with preeclampsia, you tend to notice it not only in your ankles, which is the most common place that most women notice it, but also in your hands, difficulty getting your rings on and off, and also on your face. The bottom line, though, if you're not sure and if it's something that's significant, you should call your doctor, go in, and be seen.

Now what are some of the things that pregnant women-- let's assume we're dealing with normal swelling-- what are some of the things they can do to relieve their symptoms?

Well, most pregnant women describe that their swelling in the morning is not so bad and then they get up and as the day progresses, it gets worse and worse. And for most of the typical swelling that you see during pregnancy, it tends to be most pronounced in the ankles, which makes sense. If you're up and walking around, that fluid will collect in your legs or ankles. One of the best ways is to spend some time resting. And not only is it resting, but you want to try to have your ankles or your legs higher than the level of your heart. And the reason that is is that it helps clear some of the fluid that's accumulating in your ankles quicker.

What I typically tell patients to do so that's it's not so awkward is if you have a sofa that has arms, lie down on the sofa and then put your feet up on the arms so that your ankles are actually higher than the level of your heart, and try to spend as much time you can resting. Some of the other things that women try, trying to wear compression stockings to prevent this swelling from occurring in the first place. They work to varying degrees of success. Some women find better success than others. An important caveat though is that it really needs to be thigh-high stockings. You can't wear the knee-highs because that can actually be a tourniquet around your knee and increase the risk of blood clots on your lower leg. So if you're going to wear compression stockings or the elastic hose to help with swelling, make sure they're thigh-highs.

Dr. Keith Eddleman, director of obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, thank you so much for joining Howdini.

Thank you.

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