How to Handle Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, the body goes through a number of significant changes, and some of these changes affect your cardiovascular system in major ways. While all of these changes are necessary to help support a growing baby, they can have flow-on effects that many pregnant women know about: feeling bloated, swollen ankles, and generally feeling fatigued. One problem you might not be aware of is that pregnancy can contribute to the formation of varicose veins. But never fear: varicose veins can be prevented, and modern treatments are minimally-invasive and simple.
Why Do Varicose Veins Form?
Varicose veins form due to a number of factors, and pregnant women are not the only ones who suffer from this condition. People who are very sedentary, or very active, can also suffer from varicose veins. The reason for this is that the veins have small valves inside them that help blood to flow from the extremities back to the heart. In the legs, the valves are pushing upwards against gravity, and have to work particularly hard. When there is additional pressure on these valves for some reason, such as due to long periods of standing, or thicker, less-mobile blood due to long periods of sitting, the valves can fail.
The blood volume in a woman’s body doubles when she is pregnant, which can put additional pressure on her veins. This is because the blood is needed to supply the placenta and support the growth of the baby. In addition, the weight of the baby, placenta and uterus presses down into the pelvis, which causes additional stress on the veins in the pelvis and thighs.
What Treatments Are Available?
The first step is to make sure you are doing what you can to prevent varicose veins from forming. Especially during pregnancy, it’s important to get regular exercise and eat a healthy diet. Stopping smoking is also beneficial for both the pregnancy and preventing varicose veins. Swollen ankles and calves may make you feel like lying down, but it’s crucial that you do some light exercise like walking, yoga, or swimming to help keep blood circulating efficiently in your legs. Then take breaks to elevate your feet and help the swelling to go down. Combining these two approaches can stop the blood from pooling, and can also ensure that the valves in your veins are not under too much pressure.
Another option to consider is using compression stockings to help swelling go down, and to give the valves a bit of extra assistance. Compression stockings are tighter at the ankle than they are at the thigh, which creates an upward pressure towards the heart. This allows the blood to flow more easily back to the heart from the feet. There are numerous levels of compression available, and you can talk to your doctor or midwife about which type of stockings are suitable for you.
Treating varicose veins during pregnancy is much like treating them outside of pregnancy, but you may prefer to opt for surgical or heat-based methods rather than chemical methods. There are a number of different approaches that you can take, and all have their own pros and cons.
The two main heat-based techniques are called endovenous laser ablation (EVLT) and radiofrequency ablation. These techniques are broadly similar, but the EVLT treatment uses heat from a laser, while the radiofrequency ablation uses heat from electricity. Success rates for these kind of treatments are extremely high, with as many as 98% of operations succeeding to seal the varicose vein. The recovery from these operations is fast, with only a few days of rest and care needed. The operation is performed with local anaesthetic, and within 4-5 days you should be able to walk comfortably again and go about normal activities. Painkillers taken during pregnancy for operation recovery should be discussed with your care provider.
Developing varicose veins during pregnancy is extremely common, and the treatment options are numerous. Prevention is the best first step, but if you go on to develop varicose veins anyway you can be assured that there methods that can alleviate the issues. ELVT and other heat-based treatments are suitable to be performed while you are pregnant, and can provide you with relief from the pain with minimal risks.