Developing or worsening of varicose veins during pregnancy is not uncommon. For many women, varicose veins involving the legs can be problematic due to the discomfort they cause and the complications that can result once they occur.
In this article, we will explain why varicose veins develop and how to manage them. Although one’s predisposition to developing varicose veins during pregnancy is unavoidable, there are ways to minimize their severity.
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Though varicose veins are most commonly associated with pregnancy, they can occur in various parts of the body and affect both men and women.
Other locations include:
Varicose veins form because of the difference in venous and arterial pressure (Think of the difference between a tourniquet and blood pressure cuff.)
When a tourniquet is placed on your arm to draw blood, you might notice that it is not as tight as a blood pressure cuff. The reason for this is because a tourniquet is designed to obstruct the venous return of blood to the heart.
When the tourniquet is just tight enough to block the blood flowing through the low pressure veins, the veins become distended. (When abnormally distended or obstructed, varicose veins occur).
On the other hand when a blood pressure cuff is applied the pressure applied is much higher. This is because the pressure being measured is the highest pressure required to obstruct high-pressure arterial flow.
Here are a few simple suggestions that may help alleviate the discomfort and overall severity of varicose veins during pregnancy . These suggestions are worth considering as they are based on fundamentally sound scientific principles and are not harmful:
1.) Do not cross your legs when sitting. This is something many people have been told and it is particularly important when done for prolonged periods of time. The reason crossing one’s legs can be a problem is because it causes venous stasis and pooling of blood in the lower extremities.
The occlusion and impaired blood flow return up the legs, distends the veins. In addition, the forces of gravity also have to be overcome to return blood to the heart. Whether or not leg crossing actually contributes to the exacerbation of varicose veins has always been questioned.
One thing most can agree upon is that it definitely does nothing good when it comes to varicose veins and swelling of the lower extremities.
2.) During prolonged trips in your car or by plane, make an effort to frequently stand and exercise your legs as this causes the muscles in your legs to contract which is what facilitates the return of blood to the heart. The pooling of blood in the lower extremities during long trips can also contribute to the development of blood clots.
The airline industry recognizes this risk and puts signs in the airports to prevent problems with phlebitis on long flights. Another example of how important muscular contractions are to the return of blood to the heart is the often told story of military personnel fainting when standing at attention for prolonged periods of time.
Muscular contractions and venous system valves are what keep venous blood flow moving in the right direction.
3.) Elevate your legs whenever possible to counteract the forces of gravity (as previously noted).
4.) Use compression stockings to keep pressure on superficial veins which are part of the low pressure venous circulation. This will also help reduce swelling due to fluid retention while you are upright during the day.
If you choose to use stockings, it is essential that you discuss the use of stockings with your provider to be sure they fit properly and are the correct pressure. In severe cases of varicose veins, there are stockings (Jobst, Teds etc.) which are measured and ordered by your provider.
Do not to use ankle or thigh-high stockings that have constrictive bands as they will act like a tourniquet (see above) and can make matters worse. Use full length stockings whenever possible.
Women (after their pregnancy) and men who have severe, symptomatic varicose veins, may consider treatment at some point in their lives: (some, though not all, treatment options are listed below)
This article is only intended to help one understand why varicose veins develop and some ways to help prevent their progression. We cannot comment on the management of varicose veins. This can only be addressed with your provider who can evaluate your clinical findings and then based on your medical history decide on the best and safest treatment approach.
If you ever notice any redness, tenderness, warmth or swelling associated with varicose veins, you should immediately bring these concerns to the attention of your health care provider. These symptoms can be related to a serious condition called thrombophlebitis.
Thrombophlebitis is an inflammation of the veins and can lead to other problems (blood clotting etc.) The diagnosis of such a condition can only be made by your personal provider after a thorough history and physical examination.