Affiliate links are used on this blog. Read my full disclosure here.
This is a guest post written by Dr. Michael Bardwil, MD. “Preventing Varicose Veins During Pregnancy“
The miracle of childbirth is not without its side effects. When a woman’s pregnant, her body endures a considerable amount of changes to accommodate a healthy baby. While some of these developments might not be the most comfortable—swollen feet, increased weight, stretch marks—birthing a healthy baby is worth any adverse side effects.
After a birth, many of these side effects revert back to pre-pregnancy status. Some changes, however, can stick around. Varicose veins are, unfortunately, some of the side effects of pregnancy that can endure.
Varicose veins often appear in the legs, and are more a result of the increased hormone levels, but also a result of strain and the increased pressure that a pregnancy puts on the body. When a womb expands, it puts pressure on the inferior vena cava, which is the main vein that carries blood to the lower half of the body. Superficial veins—such as the greater saphenous vein—sometimes fail, because as the vein dilates due to the increased pressure, the one-way valves no longer come together to prevent back flow. The blood stagnates, resulting in veins underneath the skin that appear as large, blue vessels that look like worms.
Varicose veins during pregnancy can be very symptomatic. In most cases, they can cause irritation, discomfort and pain. In more severe cases, they can become inflamed and clot. This is called superficial thrombophlebitis. Venous problems can also cause swelling of the leg, discoloration of the skin, and sores that are slow to heal. Conventional wisdom dictates that procedures should not be performed during pregnancy, so these symptoms will need to be endured until after the delivery.
Varicose veins may disappear, and symptoms resolve within three to four months after delivery. In some cases, they recover enough, that medical treatment may not be required.
There are steps to reduce the risk of varicose vein problems during pregnancy.
· Get Support– Wear compression socks throughout your pregnancy, starting early.
· Exercise— Walking is an excellent way to keep blood moving through the legs, and thus reducing the risk of blood clots. Your gynecologist can help you determine what level of exercise is appropriate for your stage of pregnancy.
· Diet— Low salt and high fiber diets have been known to reduce the risk of varicose veins. Fiber is key in preventing constipation, which, in addition to pregnancy, increases the strain on your veins. When you eat salt, your body retains more water. Water follows salt. Limiting sodium diminishes water retention.
· Attire— Low-heeled shoes are great for exercising the calf muscles, which increase the blood flow. Avoid wearing tight clothes around the waist. This can increase in your belly and make it more difficult for blood to flow up your legs and make varicose veins worse.
· Moderating your weight— Obviously, the less weight you’re carrying, the less pressure you’re putting on veins. Although moderating weight can be difficult while pregnant, any effort to reduce the burden will keep veins healthier.
· Avoid long periods of inactivity— Sitting or standing in one place for too long causes blood to pool in your legs. If you’re working, take frequent breaks to move around. Elevating your feet periodically will help keep blood flowing up and may reduce your swelling.
I do recommend having your veins evaluated after the delivery if you had problems with them during pregnancy. While treatment is usually not recommended immediately post-partum, it is good for a vein specialist to see them at their worst. It is then beneficial to wait for them to improve, until they have plateaued. If there is still significant abnormality, patients will benefit from treatment of their veins between pregnancies, so they don’t have to suffer so much the next time.
Dr. Michael Bardwil, MD, FACS, RVT, RVPI, is board certified in both general surgery and vascular surgery. He has over 26 years of experience performing a wide range of surgical procedures, and for the last 11 years, has dedicated his efforts exclusively to the treatment of veins. You can view his practice here: Texas Vein & Cosmetic Specialists or follow us on FB or Twitter.