A healthy pregnancy can often include a number of sometimes unpleasant conditions and pains. For example morning sickness, cramping, swelling and in general a feeling of being uncomfortable. Here is some information about veins and swelling that you may have seen on other pregnant women or have yourself during your pregnancy.
What Do Veins Do?
Veins carry deoxygenated blood back to our heart. The valves within the veins prevent blood from travelling backwards. If the valves don’t close off properly the blood then pools, causing pocket like knobs in the vein. This is why varicose veins appear knobbly, twisted and dark in nature.
Varicose veins are essentially incompetent valves that allow blood to pool. They appear bluish in colour and are mostly found on the legs. Spider veins are similar to varicose veins but are smaller red-purple lines that appear in bunches mostly appearing on the face and legs. These are part of the venous system but are not essential in functioning.
The two major options for treatment include surgery (only on large varicose veins) and sclerotherapy. Most people seek options for treatment due to cosmetic reasons but some varicose veins can cause health issues for some people. This can include blood clots, skin cancers, ulcers, venous eczema and skin breakdowns. Laser ablation is also used. Recently over the counter medications have been advertised but their use and success have not been clinically reported.
Witch Hazel cream has been reported to be effective in the treatment of spider veins and is also safe to use during pregnancy. Other alternative herbs and supplements can include blueberries, strawberries, cherries, red grapes, rye, citrus, buckwheat, garlic, onions, chilli and ginger.
What Causes These Issues?
An exact cause for these unsightly veins is relatively unknown however there is a genetic link which is seen more commonly in women. As it is more commonly seen in women there is research that suggests that it could be hormone-related. This theory is backed up by the increase seen during puberty, menopause, pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Other suggested causes include:
- Standing for long periods
- Being bed-bound
- Sitting for long periods (desk jobs)
- Some medications such as the oral contraceptive pill
- Lack of exercise
- Skin rashes around the localised area like eczema
- Blood clots (thrombophlebitis)
- Skin ulcers
Can they be prevented?
If you are genetically predisposed there are some suggestions to help minimise the unsightly veins such as
- Wearing compression/ support stockings
- Maintain a healthy weight range
- Regular exercise
- Wearing practical footwear. Studies show shoes such as high heels allow blood to pool impeding the functioning of the veins
- An important bit of advice when preventing or making varicose veins and spider veins worse is to STOP crossing your legs! Most people do not have fat behind their knees so the veins are closer to the surface and are easily squashed when we cross our legs.
What is Sclerotherapy?
A quick procedure designed to repair blood vessel damage such as varicose and spider veins. Some people require 5-20 injections. The medicinal fluid is inserted into the veins via needle and syringe. This therapy is effective on visible veins but not a preventer for future veins appearing. It is described as not being too painful but has a distinct burning sensation. After treatment, you must elevate your legs for 24 hours and wear compression dressings for 2 weeks.
It is not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding as some veins disappear after the hormone surges cease.
Swelling in the ankles is also related in pregnancy to varicose veins as the pressure in the veins increasing causes it. As your baby grows it places more pressure on the veins in your groin decreasing their ability to pump blood back to your heart effectively.
It’s very common and relatively normal. Swelling isn’t restricted to your feet it can affect hands, face etc. If you are experiencing headaches, blood pressure problems and visual disturbances and sudden swelling from fluid, it’s best you get checked by your doctor as these symptoms collectively can be pre-Eclampsia.
Pregnancy-related fluid build-up generally worsens as the day goes on especially if you have a job where you’re on your feet a lot of the day. If you are concerned about the swelling or it moves up your calves causing an indentation when pressed its’ best you speak with your doctor.
Some swelling in pregnancy is unavoidable but tips to maintain a healthy pregnancy and decrease fluid include; eating a well-balanced diet including lean proteins, beans and pulses. Decrease sugars and salts in the diet and drink plenty of water. Watercress, celery, apples, citrus and parsley are natural diuretics (assist you to pass water out of your cells/body).
Whilst you’re pregnant elevating your legs to prevent fluid build-up is recommended. It also helps your blood circulation helping the blood return back to the heart. So do yourself a favour and elevate your feet when you get home from work! Also, massage is very effective in moving fluid, so ask your partner to massage your feet and calves or better yet, go get a pregnancy massage and treat yourself!
Ali Pickles, Midwife
Disclaimer: Always speak to your doctor before changing your diet,taking any supplements or undertaking any exercise program in pregnancy. The information on this site is for reference only and is not medical advice and should not be treated as such, and is not intended in any way as a substitute for professional medical advice..
Our plans promote a health weight gain in pregnancy to benefit the mother & baby and you can read more on this here
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