Varicose veins

The circulatory changes that support the growing fetus during pregnancy can also produce the unfortunate side effect of varicose veins. About 20

percent of pregnant women develop them. To accommodate the increased blood flow during pregnancy, blood vessels often become larger. At the same time, blood flow from your legs to your pelvis may be decreased. This can cause the valves in the veins in your legs to fail, leading to dilated, bulging veins. Vein problems may also show up as fine bluish, reddish or purplish lines under the skin, most often on the legs and ankles. Varicose veins tend to run in families. An inherited weakness in the valves of veins can make you more susceptible.

Varicose veins may cause no symptoms, or they may be painful or uncomfortable, causing sore, aching legs. The size of the veins usually decreases somewhat after birth.

■ Prevention and self-care for varicose veins

These measures can help prevent varicose veins, keep them from getting worse or ease the discomfort from them:

• Avoid standing for long periods.

• Don't sit with your legs crossed. This position can aggravate circulatory problems.

• Elevate your legs as often as you can. When sitting, rest your legs on another chair or a stool. When lying down, raise your legs and feet on a pillow.

• Exercise regularly to improve your overall circulation.

• Wear support stockings from the time you wake up until you go to bed. These stockings help improve the circulation in your legs. Ask your health care provider to recommend a good brand.

• Wear loose clothing around your thighs and waist. Socks and tight clothing on the lower legs are fine, but don't wear clothes that constrict the upper legs, such as underwear with tight leg holes. This can impede the return of blood from your legs and worsen varicose veins.

■ Medical care for varicose veins

Varicose veins generally don't require treatment. In severe cases, they can be removed surgically, but the procedure isn't normally done while you're pregnant.

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