Swelling and Varicose Veins During Pregnancy

Your Feet and Legs: Swelling and Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
Your body undergoes remarkable changes during pregnancy.  These natural changes often affect your feet and legs as they are required to adapt to surging hormones in your body and to support increasing weight during pregnancy.  Leg swelling and varicose veins during pregnancy are common conditions.  While these changes typically resolve after you have your baby, there are safe and effective treatments available during pregnancy to ease your symptoms.

Swelling (Edema)
Swollen feet and ankles are very common symptoms that can occur during the later stages of pregnancy, and they are caused by a combination of factors.  During pregnancy, there is an increase in blood volume to supply both you and your baby with oxygen and nutrients.  In addition, your growing uterus can increase pressure on a major vein (the inferior vena cava) which can prevent the proper return of blood from your lower extremities.  This can cause fluid to leak out of your veins and accumulate in your feet and legs.

To minimize swelling, avoid prolonged standing and elevate your feet throughout the day.  When sitting, uncross your legs or ankles.  Stay well-hydrated with water and minimize your salt intake.  Daily exercises like walking will increase circulation and help pump fluid out of your feet and legs.  Swelling might also be improved by lying on your left side as this position moves your uterus off a major vein which can help improve the return of fluid from your legs.  If your swelling does not improve, consider wearing compression stockings.  Finally, be sure to wear comfortable shoes to accommodate your swollen feet.

While mild swelling of your feet and ankles is normal during pregnancy, severe or sudden swelling of your hands or face may be a sign of preeclampsia.  If you experience this, contact your doctor immediately.

Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are swollen, enlarged, superficial veins typically seen in your legs.  They present in about 40% of pregnant women especially during the third trimester.  There are several factors that lead their formation.  As explained above, there is an increase in the volume and pressure of blood especially in your legs and feet during pregnancy.  In addition, the veins themselves are affected by certain hormones (relaxin and estrogen) which cause them to relax and become larger.  Yet another cause is potentially having faulty valves within the veins which allow fluid to pool within the legs instead of returning back up to the body.  The loss of function of these one-way valves generally affects older women and women who have had multiple children.

Proper control of excessive swelling as described above may help prevent the formation of varicose veins in your legs.  Fortunately, these swollen veins typically improve within several months after delivery.

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