Being pregnant is exciting for so many reasons. Significant changes take place in your body as it prepares for the arrival of that precious bundle of joy. As you navigate your pregnancy, it’s crucial to know what to expect and how to handle the journey. Along with first-trimester “morning sickness,” each stage of pregnancy has its issues; your body prepares for labor, hormone levels skyrocket and headaches and backaches become frequent visitors. Sometimes, the varicose veins during pregnancy may occur.
Most patients know the late pregnancy symptoms not to ignore, like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. There are other less recognized conditions like varicose veins. Painful and unsightly, varicose veins are not typically serious. However, dangerous and potentially life threatening blood clots can occur.
In our last article, we discussed that varicose veins aren’t just a late pregnancy health problem. Varicose veins can start in early pregnancy. However, second and third trimester symptoms of varicose veins are more common.
Varicose Vein Risk Increases with Each Pregnancy
Pregnancy increases the risks of developing varicose veins. Many notice varicose and spider veins with their first pregnancy that resolve after delivery. During the second pregnancy, more develop and some remain after delivery. By the third baby, extensive varicose and spider veins are likely and persist after delivery. Let’s take a closer look at why pregnancy causes varicose veins and how the risk can be lowered.
Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
Multiple factors during pregnancy can lead to varicose veins. The blood volume and flow increases during pregnancy delivering nutrients to the placenta and taking by-products of metabolism away. The increased blood volume causes the veins to enlarge and may overwhelm the one way check valves in the legs, leading to the development of varicose veins..
Later in pregnancy the weight and size of the baby puts pressure on the abdominal veins, pelvic veins and inferior vena cava. The leg veins dilate as they struggle to overcome this pressure, damaging the check valves that control the healthy flow of blood back up the legs.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy help prepare the body for delivery. The pelvic ligaments ‘relax’ in preparation for vaginal delivery. These hormones relax the smooth muscle in the wall of the leg veins causing them to dilate making the check valves incompetent. Reflux of blood down the veins causes varicosities.
The changes of pregnancy gradually resolve over the three months after delivery. If the damage is minimal, the varicose veins resolve. Veins that do not disappear within three months should be evaluated by a phlebologist to determine if intervention is indicated.
Varicose Veins in Labia During Pregnancy
Surprisingly, varicose veins can occur in the labia during pregnancy, causing itching and pain in the sensitive pelvic area. For many the pain limits activities of daily living. Like varicose veins in the legs, labial veins often resolve after delivery. Specially design compression garments help with symptoms during pregnancy and prevent worsening veins..
The underlying cause of labial veins is reflux in the ovarian and pelvic veins. When sitting or standing if these veins are diseased venous blood drains into the labial and buttock veins. After delivery these veins can be the source of on-going vein disease. Symptoms of pelvic vein reflux include heaviness and aching in the pelvic area and thighs prior to menses and after sexual relations.
Although labial varicose veins can be seen on physical exam additional testing is needed to confirm pelvic veins reflux. Treatment of these refluxing pelvic veins can relieve the symptoms and lower the risks of varicose veins returning in the future.
Management and Prevention of Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
Preventive measures can lower your risk of varicose veins developing during pregnancy. These measures include: regular exercise, healthy weight management, taking rest breaks to elevate your legs, and wearing graduated compression hose. You should start your preventive measures in the early stages of pregnancy to reduce your risks of and prevent worsening vein disease by maintaining a balanced lifestyle for healthy circulation. These measures, also, boost circulation and reduce swelling which is common during pregnancy. Wearing quality compression hose and refraining from crossing your legs are preventive measures that keep varicose veins at bay.
A Closer Look at Risks of Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
Although Varicose Veins are more of an aggravation, there can be health risks like SVT (superficial venous thrombosis) and DVT (deep vein thrombosis). These clot-related issues typically cause swelling or redness at the site of the clot. However, DVT can be asymptomatic. A duplex US test is used to diagnose both SVT and DVT.
Can Pregnancy Cause SVT?
Pregnant induced risk of a SVT and DVT persists until 12 weeks after delivery. If varicose veins develop during the pregnancy, the clot risk increases. SVT occurs in the veins just beneath the skin surface. As the veins clot they become red, hot and tender, appearing infected. If untreated, the SVT can spread into the deep veins and become a more life threatening problem.
DVT During Pregnancy
Unlike SVT, DVT is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by blood clots in the deep veins, typically in the legs. While anyone can develop a blood clot, pregnant women are more susceptible because pregnancy hormones cause blood flow to slow down and the blood to become more hypercoagulable. As the blood flow slows, some of the cells may clot, forming a DVT. Symptoms of blood clots in the legs include:
- unexplained leg swelling
- pain or tenderness in the area of unknown origin
- skin warm to the touch
- skin that is red or discolored
If you are experiencing these symptoms during pregnancy, contact your OBGYN or contact Vein Specialists of the South for an evaluation at (478) 845-2025. Remember to ask your doctor, “How do you know this is not a blood clot?”
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The preventive measures noted above should be used to lower your risks of developing varicose veins during pregnancy. These measures include:exercise, wearing compression hose and elevating your legs when you take a break during breaks. Vein problems that develop during your pregnancy are typically treated conservatively waiting until 3 months postpartum. At that time treatment recommendations can be made for the veins that persist. Ask to see a vein specialist who will work with your OBGYN to ensure the safety of both you and your child during your treatment.
Minimally invasive office based treatments like laser or radiofrequency treatments, ambulatory phlebectomy and sclerotherapy can lead to a fast recovery time. Sclerotherapy is typically used for the smaller spider veins. Fortunately surgical options such as vein stripping, are rarely necessary today. Discuss your options with your vein specialist to find out what’s the best course of action for you.
Second and Third Trimester Health Tips
Even though it’s wise to educate yourself about the symptoms and risks involved in pregnancy, keep in mind that by properly taking care of yourself, you can help prevent many conditions that can lead to pregnancy-related complications. Eat healthy foods, monitor your salt intake to avoid swelling and increased blood pressure, and take plenty of rest breaks in order to reduce pressure on your legs. Staying active is a must, and regular exercise breaks will boost circulation, especially in the legs, thus reducing varicose veins, swelling, and other circulation-related medical issues. And don’t forget to wear medical grade compression hose during your pregnancy, especially if you have a family history of vein problems.
Questions About Varicose Veins During Pregnancy?
Contact your OBGYN or call Vein Specialists of the South at (478) 845-2025 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Kenneth Harper. We have two convenient locations in Macon, GA and Warner Robins, GA.