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Severe Gestational Edema


  • Dianne Reynolds CNM, MSN

    Corresponding author
      Women and Infants’ Hospital, 101 Dudley Street, Providence RI 02905.
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    • Dianne Reynolds, CNM, MSN is a Clinical Teaching Associate in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Brown University/Women and Infants’ Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

Women and Infants’ Hospital, 101 Dudley Street, Providence RI 02905.


Lower extremity edema is an almost universal finding in late pregnancy, occurring secondary to increased venous pressure in the legs, obstruction of lymphatic flow, and reduced plasma colloid osmotic pressure.1 Varney describes gestational edema as the development of an excessive accumulation of fluid in the tissues without coexisting hypertension or proteinuria.2 Midwives are familiar with this common condition in an otherwise uncomplicated pregnancy and are comfortable reassuring clients that lower extremity edema is non-pathologic. The patient with severe lower extremity edema, however, presents the provider with a clinical challenge. Is the presenting symptom a sign of an underlying disease process, or simply a normal physiologic process with extreme manifestation/expression? Lower extremity edema that rises to include the labia presents an intrapartum challenge of managing tissue integrity during the birth. A case of severe gestational edema is reported. Discussion explores broader considerations in differential diagnosis and management.

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