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Many women develop varicose veins during pregnancy. It has been estimated that as many as 40% of all pregnant women suffer from varicose veins. You do not have to be one of them!

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are swollen veins that may bulge near the surface of the skin. These squiggly, blue or purple veins are most likely to show up in your legs and feet, though you may also get them elsewhere.

Varicose veins usually cause little or no discomfort, but when painful signs or symptoms occur, they may make your legs feel heavy and achy. The skin around a varicose vein may also itch, throb, or feel like it is burning. The symptoms will tend to be worse after prolonged periods of sitting or standing.

What cause varicose veins?

There are three main causes for the development of varicose veins during pregnancy:

  • The main cause is the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy. Increased levels of the hormone progesterone cause blood vessels to relax. This may allow the two halves of the valves in the vein to separate slightly, so that they do not meet to block the backflow of blood. The amount of blood in your body also increases when you are pregnant, adding to the burden on your veins.
  • The enlarged uterus is another cause. As the uterus grows, it puts pressure on the large vein on the right side of your body, which in turn increases pressure in the leg veins.
  • A family history of varicose veins tends to increase the likelihood of varicose veins developing during pregnancy. They are much more common in women than men, and if you have them, they tend to get worse with each successive pregnancy and as you get older. Being overweight, carrying twins and standing for long periods can also place you more at risk.

Are varicose veins serious?

They are generally harmless in the short term. Treatment, if needed, can wait until after pregnancy.

But a small percentage of people who have varicose veins may develop small blood clots in their veins near the skin surface (a condition called superficial venous thrombosis).

When this kind of clot develops, the vein may feel hard and rope-like, and the area around it may be red, hot, tender, or painful.

These clots usually are not serious, but be sure to call your doctor if you think you have one. Occasionally the area surrounding a clot becomes infected (in which case you may also have fever or chills), and you will need to be treated promptly with antibiotics.

Also call your doctor immediately if either of your legs is significantly swollen or has sores, or the skin near the veins has changed color.

How can I prevent or minimise them?

Good news: varicose veins tend to improve within three or four months after giving birth, particularly if you did not have any before you got pregnant. And if they do not get better, there are a variety of ways to treat them.

Here are some tips:

  • Exercise daily. Even just a brisk walk around the block can help your circulation.
  • Try to keep within the recommended weight range for your stage of pregnancy.
  • Elevate your feet and legs whenever possible. Use a stool or box to rest your legs on when you are sitting, and keep your feet elevated on a pillow when you are lying down. Do not cross your legs or ankles when sitting and try not to sit or stand for long periods without taking breaks to move around.
  • Sleep on your left side with your feet on a pillow. Wedge a pillow behind your back to keep yourself tilted to the left. Since the inferior vena cava is on the right side, lying on your left side relieves the vein of the weight of the uterus, thus decreasing pressure on the veins in your legs and feet.
  • Wear special support hose. Prescription-strength hose, known as graduated-compression stockings work best. These stockings are twice as thick as normal pantyhose. Tight at the ankle, they get looser as they go up the leg, making it easier for blood to flow back up toward your heart. As a result, they help prevent swelling and may keep your varicose veins from getting worse.

Treatments

If you do not respond to self-care, support stockings, or if your condition is more severe, your doctor may recommend a variety of surgical treatments to remove these unsightly veins.

So relax, your legs can still be beautiful and sexy after giving birth. LWB

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