Pregnancy brings many joys into the life of the expectant mother. However pregnancy may also bring spider veins and varicose veins. 33% of women pregnant for the first time and 55% of women who have had two or more full term pregnancies develop varicose veins.
There are several causes of varicose veins in pregnancy.
- Heredity is a major contributing factor.
- Hormone (estrogen and progesterone) levels rise during pregnancy which causes the wall of the veins to stretch and weaken.
- The blood volume doubles to supply both the mother and fetus with an adequate amount of blood.
- As the fetus grows in the uterus, more pressure is exerted on the inferior vena cava; this increases pressure on the leg veins.
- Carrying the extra weight of the fetus and standing for long periods of time make it more likely to develop varicose veins.
- Crossing your legs while sitting increases your risk of varicose veins.
- There may be a decrease in physical activity.
All of these factors cause extra pressure on the leg veins causing them to dilate and expand. This weakens the vein walls and damages the valves in the veins. Due to the downward pressure, the blood flow back to the heart is slowed, spider veins appear and the already compromised veins bulge more.
Varicose veins tend to get worse with each pregnancy. They many go away after delivery. However, they may reappear later in life for no apparent reason. The damage done to the valves in the veins during pregnancy is permanent. These problems can be avoided if compression therapy is prescribed during pregnancy. We urge women with a history of venous disease in their family or who experience swelling or pain in their legs to discuss this with their physician.
There are some things you can do to improve your leg health while pregnant:
- Keep your weight within the recommended range for your stage of pregnancy.
- Exercise daily, including walking. The calf muscles act as a secondary pump to move the blood back to the heart.
- Elevate your feet and legs whenever possible.
- Don’t sit or stand for long periods without taking a break. If you will be sitting for extended periods of time, use a stool or box to elevate your feet. If you find yourself in a situation where you will be standing for an extended period of time, place one foot on a stool and alternate every 5 to 10 minutes.
- Sleep on the left side with a pillow between your legs and behind your back will help increase the venous flow back to the heart.
- Don’t wear clothing that is binding around the tops of your legs, waist or ankles.
- Wear medical grade compression stockings. You may want to put them on before getting out of bed to prevent blood from pooling in the legs.
According to The New England Journal of Medicine Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is the leading cause of mortality and morbidity during and after childbirth. A DVT can develop if you have certain medical conditions that affect how your blood clots. DVT can also happen if you don’t move for a long time or have surgery. DVT is a serious condition because blood clots in your veins can break loose, travel through your bloodstream and lodge in you lungs, blocking blood flow. This is a life threatening occurrence called pulmonary embolism. A DVT is more common before 20 weeks of gestation and during the first six weeks postpartum. Compression stockings should also be worn postpartum to help prevent DVT. In warmer weather they may seem hot, but will keep your legs healthy!
Here’s to happy, healthy mommas and babies,