What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is oedema?

Oedema is the swelling of bodily tissue due to fluid retention. It's common in pregnancy caused by having more water in your body than usual, and the excess seeps into surrounding tissue. Fluid tends to pool in the lower legs and ankles, and most often occurs in the third trimester, although it can occur at any time in pregnancy. It's often worse in the evenings and when the weather is hot. Pregnancy isn't the only cause of oedema, which can also occur in people with diabetes; arthritis; heart failure and various serious diseases, as well as people who take certain types of medication, including the contraceptive pill. There are some lifestyle factors that can cause oedema, too, including eating too many salty foods and standing or sitting for long periods at a time.

What are the symptoms of Oedema?

Swelling of body tissue, most often in the lower legs, ankles, feet, face, hands and arms. This is known as 'peripheral' oedema. When areas of oedema dent when pressed and take time to return to normal, it's known as 'pitting oedema'.
If you're pregnant and you notice your oedema suddenly getting worse, especially in your face and hands, you should contact your midwife or doctor straight away, as this can be a sign of pre-eclampsia – a potentially dangerous condition of pregnancy.

What are the treatments and remedies of Oedema?

Lifestyle changes are usually all that's needed to deal with mild oedema, and your GP will advise cutting down on dietary salt; resting with your legs higher than your hips; increasing your exercise to boost circulation and losing weight (although this is not usually advised in pregnancy). Wearing special maternity support tights can also help.
If non-pregnancy oedema doesn't improve with these measures, you'll probably be prescribed a diuretic, which encourages your body to pass excess water out of your system as urine. These usually have to be taken on an ongoing basis.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net