Your pregnancy comes with a bundle of joy and some aches and pains. Fortunately, most discomfort during pregnancy is normal, albeit irritating. Pregnancy leg cramps are one of those symptoms. However, in some cases, leg cramps during pregnancy can be a sign of something more serious.
What causes leg cramps during pregnancy? Can they be treated? When should you be worried? Let’s talk about the connection between leg cramps and venous disease in pregnancy.
What Causes Leg Cramps During Pregnancy?
Pregnancy leg cramps can be caused by benign, easy-to-resolve conditions. These include inadequate hydration and low potassium. The solution is generally simple: drink more water and eat more bananas and avocados.
Other more serious causes for leg cramps during pregnancy, including varicose veins and blood clots in the superficial veins, called Superficial Vein Thrombosis (SVT) and deep veins, called Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Read further to learn how these are diagnosed and treated.
Varicose Veins: A Common Side-Effect In Pregnancy
Venous disease in pregnancy is all too common. Your first signs may be unsightly spider veins, uncomfortable bulging varicose veins, or leg swelling. During pregnancy, your veins can be visible or not, but you can have symptoms even if you have no visible changes in your legs. These symptoms may include leg pain, heaviness, or aching.
The good news is that you can reduce your risk of developing vein disease during your pregnancy with simple conservative lifestyle changes we call our Better Veins for Life® principles. By wearing compression stockings, elevating your legs daily, exercising, healthy weight management as recommended by your Vein Specialists and OBGYN, you can help with symptoms and even prevent varicose veins from developing or worsening during your pregnancy.
If your symptoms become severe during your pregnancy, you may benefit from a visit with a vein specialist. Our experience has shown that conservative care goes a long way to improve your comfort and vein health during your pregnancy. We do not routinely recommend minimally invasive procedures for your varicose veins during pregnancy. Varicose vein procedures have not been adequately studied for safety during pregnancy.
Varicose veins may improve once you give birth. Approximately 12 weeks after giving birth, your body returns to pre-pregnancy equilibrium. For some patients, this means that varicose veins go away. For these reasons, it’s best to wait at least 12 weeks after delivery before getting any minimally invasive vein work.
Blood Clots In The Legs During Pregnancy
Feet and ankles swell during pregnancy, worsening over time. Leg elevation, likely recommended by your OBGYN, reduces this swelling and aching. A bonus is that it also reduces your risks of venous disease and blood clots during pregnancy, as it improves circulation.
Even during the first trimester, blood clots are a bigger risk than at other times in your life. The hormones that your body produces during pregnancy slow blood flow for a safe delivery. A side-effect is that it makes it more difficult for blood to flow back up from the feet and legs toward the heart. This increases the likelihood for blood clots to form. By elevating your legs every day, you encourage healthy blood flow from the legs back to the heart. This reduces your risk of developing a blood clot in one of your legs.
Following our Better Veins for Life® principles, wearing compression hose and exercising as recommended will also help protect you from blood clots in the deep vein.
What To Do If You Have Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
Though your pregnancy leg cramps aren’t always a sign of immediate concern, you should tell your OBGYN about any persistent leg discomfort. Your OBGYN will most likely refer you to a vein specialist for evaluation for any serious complications.
You should call your OBGYN or seek emergency medical care right away if you have one of the following symptoms accompanying leg cramps or pain:
- difficulty walking
- worsening leg swelling
- skin redness in the affected area
- skin that is warm to the touch in the affected area
- palpable tender nodules on the legs
- shortness of breath or chest pain
These symptoms could mean that you have an infection or a blood clot. Seek emergency medical care or call your doctor right away.
Pregnancy And Lymphedema
Immediately report any sudden or worsening leg or ankle swelling to your OBGYN. While lymphedema isn’t a common pregnancy symptom, swelling is. It can be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy complication with dangerously elevated blood pressure. Discuss this with your doctor right away, as you could be at risk for high blood pressure associated conditions of the heart, brain, and other organ damage.
Lymphedema is a more severe type of swelling, which is either a primary or secondary impairment of the lymphatic flow. Primary means it is something that you are born with. Though you are born with it, the onset can vary from birth to adulthood.
You can acquire secondary lymphedema at any age, caused by damage or blockage of the lymphatic system. In developed countries, the most common causes of secondary lymphedema include cancer, lymph node removal, radiation therapy, etc. If lymphedema runs in your family, you have been diagnosed with lymphedema prior to your pregnancy or you have been treated for cancer prior to your pregnancy your risks for worsening during your pregnancy is increased.
Vein Specialists of the South offers the area’s only comprehensive Vein and Lymphedema Therapy team for you. Ask your OBGYN for a referral early in your pregnancy to help prevent lymphedema symptoms and complications. Our team can help you with your lymphedema during and after your pregnancy, providing safe treatment options such as massage and compression.
What Can I Do During My Pregnancy To Relieve Leg Discomfort?
First and foremost, talk with your OBGYN. If your symptoms are not controlled with simple conservative measures, request a referral to Vein Specialists of the South.
If you or your doctor are worried about a blood clot, more urgent medical evaluation and treatment will be required, as blood clots can cause serious complications. At VSS, we offer a unique service for just this occasion. Your doctor can call for an Easy Access appointment to evaluate for a possible blood clot. We offer this service in our Macon office Mon-Thur. 8:30AM – 3:30 PM and Friday 8:30AM – 11:30PM. It is convenient for you and your doctor, avoids the time and hassle of going to the emergency room, and gives you and your doctor an immediate diagnosis.
If it’s not a blood clot but varicose and spider veins, we’re here to help during and after pregnancy.
Attend A Free Vein Education Event In Downtown Macon
If you’d like to learn more about leg cramps, swelling, and venous disease that occurs at every stage of life, even during pregnancy, we invite you to attend one of our free education and evaluation events. We hold these Vein Education and Evaluation Events in our Downtown Macon vein specialty practice. Find our upcoming event in our News and Events section.
Purchase Compression At Vein Specialists Of The South
Visit Vein Specialists of the South to discuss our compression options for pregnant women. We offer numerous styles, colors, and levels of compression to relieve your symptoms.
Please also take a moment to learn about our Compression Coalition program to help you save on compression wear.
Contact Vein Specialists Of The South For An Evaluation
If you are ready to schedule, call for an in-office consultation with one of our vein care specialists. We offer you a professionally guided conservative care program during and after your pregnancy, working alongside your OBGYN for a holistic approach.
By coming to us during your pregnancy, we can manage your conservative care required by most insurance carriers. In the event your vein problems persist more than twelve weeks after your delivery, we can discuss further treatment options. We’ll help you on your way toward Better Veins for Life®.
Contact us today at Vein Specialists of the South, serving Middle Georgia for more than 20 years.