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Lift Your Leg! – Against Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
In many pregnant women, the veins are overstrained and expand into varicose veins. However, it does not necessarily have to come to that. Plenty of exercise keeps the veins on their toes. The work done by the veins is enormous: day after day, they tirelessly pump blood through the body – used blood that has to travel long distances, for example from the tips of the toes to the heart, in order to be oxygenated again in the lungs. That’s real work. The transport takes place uphill, against the force of gravity, and works primarily with the help of the calf muscles. They squeeze the veins and force the blood toward the heart. Valves embedded in the vein wall prevent the blood from slumping back into the legs. During pregnancy, the veins are particularly susceptible to disruption. One in two expectant mothers develops varicose veins, and the risk of venous disease increases with each additional child. This is mainly due to hormonal changes, which generally loosen all tissues and thus also make the vein walls more elastic. At the same time, the volume of blood increases by about 20 percent; this means significantly more work for the veins. And the growing uterus exerts a lot of pressure on the abdominal veins, especially when standing, as early as the fifth month of pregnancy, making it more difficult for blood to return from the legs to the heart. As a result, the superficial leg veins dilate, the valves can no longer close properly, and the blood backs up in the legs – until the veins finally ooze out and snake along the leg as varicose veins.
Active Days Decongest The Veins
Fortunately, many varicose veins regress a few months after delivery. However, this does not mean that pregnant women should accept their vein problems. They are not just a cosmetic problem. Varicose veins can turn into phlebitis, ulcers and thrombosis. In a thrombosis, the blood in the vein clots and a blood clot forms. It becomes dangerous when a blood clot breaks loose, enters the pulmonary vessels and blocks them. Such a pulmonary embolism can be fatal. This makes vein care during pregnancy all the more important.
- Get plenty of exercise: Whether walking, hiking, swimming or biking – exercise trains the calf muscle pump and brings the blood a little further to the heart with each step. If you don’t have the opportunity to exercise, rock from your heels to your toes as often as possible.
- Sit and stand little: Those who have to sit for long periods at work or wherever should often circle their feet or bob up and down. Stretch your legs at least every two hours on long car rides, and take an aisle seat on planes and pull your feet toward your nose. Very important: Do not sit with your legs crossed, as this pinches the veins in the back of the knee and promotes blood congestion in the legs.
- Legs up: When watching television or at night, the legs should be elevated. It is sufficient to raise the footrest by one to two centimeters. If it is tilted too much, blood will pool elsewhere, such as at the back of the knee.
- Cool legs: Lukewarm or cold showers from the foot upward provide more tension in the veins, also brush massages with cold water are beneficial.
- Drink plenty of fluids: Fluids help to keep the blood flowing. At least two liters of low-calorie drinks per day are obligatory, such as tap and mineral water, fruit juice spritzer or fruit tea.
Compression Stocking Supports From The Outside
Anyone who nevertheless has heavy, tired and swollen legs or pain should seek medical treatment – the sooner, the better. The mainstay of therapy is the consistent wearing of decongestive compression stockings. This is especially true for women who already had varicose veins before pregnancy. They should also wear the stocking during the postpartum period, because the risk of phlebitis and thrombosis is particularly high during this time. Sometimes a calf-length stocking is sufficient, which only decongests the veins in the lower leg. As a rule, however, a long stocking or pantyhose with an adjustable pant section that supports the entire leg is advisable during pregnancy. If a mild phlebitis has already developed, bandages, cooling compresses or ointments can help. If the symptoms still do not disappear, the doctor may consider a minor operation in which the affected area is locally anesthetized and the clotted blood is pressed out of the vein. The feeling of pressure and pain then disappear suddenly.