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Swollen Ankles During Pregnancy

Swollen Ankles During Pregnancy

If your ankles swell up while you are pregnant, do not worry, you are not alone. Swollen ankles during pregnancy are a very common occurrence, especially at the 35th week of pregnancy or at the end of your last trimester. Although it can be uncomfortable and difficult to deal with at times, the swelling is benefiting your body.

Swelling (medically known as edema) occurs during pregnancy due to the increase of fluids that the body is retaining. While you are pregnant, your body produces up to 50% more blood and fluids to nourish your baby. Twenty-five percent of the weight gained during pregnancy is due to fluid retention. Many times, the swelling is seen in the feet, ankles, legs, face and hands. The retention of fluid may be uncomfortable, but it plays an important role during labor and delivery. As your body retains the fluid, it softens itself, which allows it to expand as your baby grows larger. It also helps prepare your pelvic joints and tissues to open for the passage of your baby through the birth canal.

Swollen Ankles during Pregnancy Symptoms

Most women begin experiencing swollen ankles towards the end of their pregnancy term. The swelling itself is a symptom of an underlying condition, including being pregnant. Symptoms of swelling might include tightness or shininess of the swollen ankle, warmth and/or redness. However, swelling associated with other symptoms could indicate a problematic underlying condition. For example, if bruising occurs or your swollen skin turns purple, poor circulation or diabetes could be the problem. Symptoms to watch for include the following:

  • Redness
  • Pain when flexing or extending the ankle or foot (sign of blood clot)
  • Red streaking appears through legs (sign of infection)
  • Weakening of skin (sign of blood clot)
  • Bruising

Talk with your doctor or midwife about other possible symptoms that may appear. Some symptoms can indicate that conditions such as congestive heart failure or kidney failure are developing.

What Causes Swollen Ankles during Pregnancy?

In most cases, the swelling is due to fluid retention. While you’re pregnant, your body produces up to 50% more blood and fluids to properly nourish your baby. But there are several factors that can lead to swollen ankles while you are pregnant such as:

  • Hot, humid environment- summer months are worst
  • Lack of potassium in your diet
  • Too much salt in your diet
  • Too much caffeine in your system
  • Poor circulation
  • Preeclampsia or eclampsia

Preeclampsia and eclampsia can be serious problems for pregnant women. Preeclampsia, also called “pregnancy-induced hypertension”, usually occurs from the 20th week of pregnancy until a week after delivery. Preeclampsia affects your blood pressure, kidney function and your central nervous system. When seizures or comas occur, it is referred to as eclampsia.

Signs and symptoms typically include a significant rise in blood pressure, swelling or puffiness in face, hands and feet that is worse in the morning, and excessive weight gain (more than 1 lb per week during last trimester). Severe cases of preeclampsia can cause symptoms such as blurred vision, headaches, irritability, and abdominal pain. Urine tests may be needed for a proper diagnosis.

Preeclampsia is more common among African Americans, mothers over the age of 40 or less than 20, mothers who are carrying more than one fetus, mothers who are obese before conception and during pregnancy, and those with a family history or previous experience with the condition.

Treatment and Prevention for Swollen Ankles during Pregnancy

For most women, the swelling subsides within two weeks of delivery. Until then, treating and preventing swollen ankles is necessary. Most of the treatment options work as preventive measures. Here are some tips to help you deal with swollen ankles and symptoms of swollen ankles:

  • Rest your feet as often as possible
  • Elevate your feet (at least 12” above your heart level) while resting
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids during the day
  • Reduce or avoid salt/sodium
  • Stay in cool environments
  • Avoid tight clothing, especially around your lower extremities
  • Eat healthy and exercise regularly
  • Watch for and report any additional symptoms that appear to your doctor or midwife
  • Avoid warm, humid environments if possible
  • Use cold compresses on swollen areas
  • Rest or swim in a pool 2-3 times per week if possible
  • Wear supportive stockings, socks and/or tights
  • If you are diabetic, you should check your feet daily for changes

When to See Your Doctor or Midwife

If your ankles swell while you are pregnant, it might not be a reason to jump to the phone to call your doctor or midwife. Most women experience their feet and ankles swelling during the end of their pregnancy. What is not normal is when the swelling suddenly occurs in your face, hands, or in one leg. Call your health care provider immediately if:

  • Pain is felt in swollen area
  • If the swollen area’s redness spreads
  • Red streaking in your legs appears
  • You can not bear weight on affected foot/leg
  • After elevation, swelling does not go down within 24 hours
  • Any home remedies, such as soaking in Epsom salt do not reduce swelling
  • Anti-inflammatory medications do not work

You may not need to call your health care provider if the swelling goes down within 24 hours or if any of the other treatment and preventive measures solves your problem. However, during your next prenatal visit you may want to discuss what you have been experiencing with your doctor or midwife so they can help you find a solution that works for you.

[Page updated June 2014]