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Varicose Veins and Pregnancy

Varicose veins are veins that have become inefficient in returning deoxygenated blood to the heart. Veins carry deoxygenated blood from different parts of the body back to the heart and lungs. Varicose veins develop when the vein’s valves no longer function efficiently i.e. the valves no longer close and allow deoxygenated blood to backflow. Veins are normally invisible however, with defective valves, they bulge and become visible. Varicose veins can happen anywhere in the body, but they are most common in the ankles and legs.

Varicose veins are usually greenish to bluish in colour. Most consider them as a cosmetic problem; however, they can cause serious complications such as phlebitis, thrombosis, and skin ulcers when they are left untreated. Varicose veins are common among men and women, but they often worsen during pregnancy and old age.

Around one-third of pregnant women have varicose veins. Pregnancy is not the main cause of varicose veins, but it does worsen the condition of defective veins. Varicose veins worsen during pregnancy because of two main reasons:  the fluctuating hormones and the added pressure of the uterus. The body of a pregnant women releases hormones that relax ligaments and tissues so that the baby can easily pass the birth canal; these hormones can also affect the veins and its valves. The veins also relax and expand, making valves inefficient, resulting to the formation of varicose veins. Aside from the hormones, the growing uterus prevents efficient blood flow; blood coming from the legs cannot easily flow towards the heart because of the added pressure. The increased pressure also prevents the vein valves from closing properly.

 Pregnant women with varicose veins feel discomfort, heaviness, aching, and swelling in the legs. These varicose veins can lead to serious problems including formation of prominent veins in their vulvas, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and phlebitis. A tired feeling and numbness of the legs after prolonged sitting or standing is also common. Most of the time, varicose veins worsen as pregnancy progresses.

Most pregnant women can also develop vulvar varicose veins during the last trimester of their pregnancy. Vulvar varicose veins can cause much discomfort on the pregnant woman. These defective veins usually bleed during child birth. After pregnancy, these vulvar varicose veins often recede and do not usually require treatment.

It is not advisable for pregnant women to undergo definitive varicose vein treatments. There may already be painless and fast varicose vein treatments, but these procedures can affect the developing baby. Instead of undergoing vein treatment procedures, pregnant women can wear compression stockings and tights. Wearing these can help squeeze blood up, back to the heart and lungs. Pregnant women may also apply skin moisturizer on the affected areas.

After giving birth, varicose veins decrease; however, these veins are still very visible and can still cause discomfort.  After pregnancy, women can now undergo different treatments and procedures that can treat and remove varicose veins. People with varicose veins now have more choices in treating and removing their defective veins. The common vein treatment procedures include sclerotherapy, radiofrequency ablation, and laser.

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