It’s not uncommon to experience varicose veins, but the chances are upped for women who become pregnant. Why is this?
Pregnant women produce a lot of extra blood to support the fetus as well as their own growing body. As a result, blood vessels get extra stress and pressure, especially in the legs. The veins of the legs have to push that extra blood back up the leg to the heart—and have to pass through the pelvic blood vessels, which experience tremendous pressure from the expanding uterus. On top of that, by the 30th week of pregnancy, the body has been producing so much extra progesterone that it relaxes the vessels, leading them to do less work. Blood then begins to pool in the veins of the legs, which is what’s happening when you have varicose veins. But what you also find is pooling of the vessels of the vulva and the rectum, which, because of the side effect of constipation, causes hemorrhoids—which are actually varicose veins.
The Good News: Varicose veins are unlikely to put mother or baby at any risk. And women who did not have the varicose veins before pregnancy are likely to see them minimize or even disappear within a few months after they give birth.
The Bad News: If a woman has varicose veins during her first pregnancy, she’s almost assured of having them during any subsequent pregnancies. They can be itchy and achy, and while that’s nothing to be alarmed about, pregnant women with varicose veins should monitor these veins in case they become inflamed and make their practitioner aware of them as this can be an indication of a blood clot. While the chances of a clot are remote, safety of mother and baby is the priority.
Can Varicose Veins be Prevented? Since they can be hereditary, women whose mothers had varicose veins during pregnancy should be prepared to have them as well. And while there is no surefire way to prevent varicose veins, there are a few steps that can help:
1. Stay active. Walking during pregnancy and other low-level exercises help keep the circulation going and get that blood pumping back up to the heart.
2. Wear support stockings. These help the legs push blood back upward, counteracting the belly weight that wants to keep that blood below waist-level. Pregnant women should put them on when they get out of bed to help blood from pooling in the legs before circulation can get boosted again. That being said,
3. Wear loose clothing. If the body size increases, so should the clothes. Tight clothes, even (especially) underwear, can cinch blood vessels and impede proper circulation. This includes tight socks and shoes and anything around the tops of the legs. And while the body is growing,
4. Watch the weight gain. Women should follow their doctor’s weight gain recommendations, which is usually around 25-35 pounds. An excess of weight increases the strain on the circulatory system, which is already under pressure from the growing baby.
5. Don’t do anything to strain the body. Avoid heavy lifting (even if it wasn’t “heavy” before pregnancy). The no-straining rule should also apply to visits to the restroom, to stave off hemorrhoids.
6. Sleep on the left side. Back sleeping can put the baby’s weight on the vena cava, the large vein that carries blood to the heart from the feet and legs. The left side is preferred to assist in circulation to the heart and to avoid putting pressure on the liver from the fetus.
7. Keep the blood pumping. This becomes harder toward the end of the pregnancy, but it is an important practice for pregnant women. If not walking as much, moms-to-be should do leg lifts and ankle rotations. But it’s also important for them to be able to get off their feet and elevate the legs when sitting, so the blood pumps back to the heart. The key with all of these is to improve circulation while reducing stress on the veins and vessels as much as possible.
Can Varicose Veins be Treated During Pregnancy? Sclerotherapy is a treatment that includes injection of a saline solution into the vein. This is a very effective and painless solution—but should not be done during pregnancy. Best to wait until after the birth, and then treatment is as simple as a quick doctor’s office visit.
For more information on sclerotherapy or laser treatment, or to schedule an appointment, contact us at 760-944-9263 or visit us at www.sdveininstitute.com.