If you are pregnant, you may notice that your feet and ankles look swollen. Pregnancy-related ankle edema can range from mild to extensive, and in some cases, a condition known as pitting edema can develop. This condition refers to pitting or indentations that don't bounce back after applying pressure with your finger. If your feet and ankles are swollen, your shoes may not fit properly, and you may also notice pain or limited mobility in your lower extremities. Here are three things that may lead to edema in your ankles during pregnancy and what you can do about them:
High Sodium Intake
While eating foods high in salt content can lead to swollen ankles in any person, the obstetric patient is usually more sensitive to the effects of sodium intake. This is because pregnancy hormones can alter metabolism and venous circulation, leading to fluid retention.
To help prevent water retention caused by sodium intake, drink plenty of non-caffeinated beverages such as water. This will help your kidneys excrete excess salt from your tissues, including the tissues around your feet, ankles, and hands. Consuming too much salt can also raise your blood pressure. Hypertension is also thought to be another risk factor for ankle edema, and can heighten the risk for complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
If you take certain medications such as antihistamines to control seasonal allergies, or if your doctor has prescribed beta blockers to help regulate your heart rate or lower your blood pressure, you may be at risk for swollen ankles. These medications can cause fluid retention, especially in your feet and ankles.
Pain relievers such as ibuprofen can also lead to swelling of your ankles, and may not be recommended during pregnancy, especially if you have pre-existing renal problems or high blood pressure. If you develop swollen ankles while taking antihistamines or beta blockers, talk to your doctor about reducing the dosage. Fluid retention related to medications is often dose-dependent, which means that lower dosages may be less likely to cause ankle edema.
When you are dehydrated because of lack of water, your body perceives this as a threat, so it will hold on to every drop of fluid in your body. This can lead to water retention in your ankles, however, once you start drinking adequate amounts of water again, your kidneys will start releasing retained fluid, thereby helping to diminish tissue swelling. Drinking plenty of water not only helps resolve ankle swelling, it can also help prevent dizziness and fatigue, both of which are common during the first trimester of pregnancy.
While ankle swelling is often considered a normal finding during pregnancy, severely swollen ankles, especially if accompanied by swelling of the legs, hands, and face, should be evaluated by your obstetric physician. The sooner the cause is determined, the sooner an effective treatment plan can be implemented to help ensure that you have a healthy pregnancy and delivery.