At university, I wore ridiculously short skirts. I thought I had a fine pair of legs and, if you’ve got it, flaunt it, right? Nowadays, I wear ridiculously long skirts. Protruding, purple, painful, varicose veins, which affect one in four women, writhe their way across my legs, courtesy of my pregnancies.
An explanation, please
“Hormonal changes happen within a woman’s body during pregnancy,” says Dr Chad Tse, a specialist in general surgery at Matilda International Hospital. “This results in the blood vessels relaxing, which can cause the valves of the veins to separate and cause excessive accumulation of blood in the veins. Moreover, the uterus becomes enlarged in pregnancy, which presses against the major veins in the pelvis, leading to increased venous pressure in the legs.”
Pregnant mamas may also discover clusters of itsy-bitsy dilated blood vessels, known as spider veins, decorating their legs, and varicose veins on their vulva, vagina and bottom.
Dodging dodgy veins
Whilst heredity, multiple pregnancies and too many pork pies can increase the chances of varicose veins, a few little changes in your day can reduce the risks. If you’re standing up for too long, sit down; if you’re sitting down for too long, stand up; and if you’re walking around for too long, sit back down again with your legs uncrossed and elevated.
Dr Tse also suggests, “Sleep on your left side to relieve the weight of the uterus and decrease the pressure on your veins.” He also suggests wearing compression stockings, available in pharmacies and from your doctor, which provide support to the surface veins and prevent accumulation of blood in the legs.
From cosmetic to critical complications
Typically, varicose veins disappear shortly after giving birth. But persistent varicose veins, usually a cosmetic inconvenience, can lead to complications such as venous ulcers, itchy varicose dermatitis, torrential bleeding caused by a bump or fall, or blood clots and inflammation in the veins (thrombophlebitis). Occasionally, blood clots can be fatal should they travel to the lungs. Thrombophlebitis sufferer Allison, a Hong Kong mother-of-two, says, “I can’t carry my son for too long or have fun with him at playgroups. I’m considering treatment as the constant pain is unbearable.”
Be done with dead veins
According to Dr Tse, painful open surgery involving ligation and stripping of abnormal veins under general anaesthetic was once the only treatment for varicose veins. Recovery took weeks and women were left with unsightly scars. Nowadays, however, varicose veins can be made to contract and collapse by injecting a liquid agent into the veins (ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy) or cauterised and closed with radio frequency or laser energy (endovenous ablation). These quick, pain- and scar-free alternatives offer minimal downtime from bouncing around at baby classes.
If varicose veins persist post-pregnancy, discuss the appropriate treatment with your doctor. Then, once you’ve got your fine pair of legs backs, hit the shops, plan a night out and get ready to strut your stuff again!