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Your Healthy Family: Pregnancy's impact on a woman's veins

Posted at 7:47 AM, May 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-12 08:43:18-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — May is Women's Healthcare Month. The owner of Lumiere Cosmetic Vein Center in Cape Coral says pregnancy can have a big impact on a woman's veins.

“If you take all the blood in your body and split it into a rectangle and cut that into eighths, seven eighths of your blood sits on the right side of your heart, or your venous system. Because of that, it puts a higher pressure and volume load on the venous side," Dr. Joseph Cipriano said.

He said that's for everyone. But when a woman is pregnant, her blood volume is above and beyond normal.

"You get an increase of your blood volume, at least a third in it's volume and capacity. It can go up to almost 50 percent in excess," he said.

That puts even more pressure on a woman's venous side. Dr. Cipriano said the increase in blood volume helps get oxygen to the baby in utero, as well as the rest of the tissues in a woman's body. He said the baby and uterus add even more pressure.

“With pressure and our pelvis pushing down against those vessels, it's making it harder for that blood flow to return,” Dr. Cipriano said.

He said all of the pressure can lead to distended or bulging vessels.

“Everywhere from below the fetus down to your feet, involving hemorrhoid development, varicose vein development, spider vein development," he said.

What seems like just a cosmetic problem can have real impacts on your body over time, like venous insufficiency.

"Venous insufficiency is, simply put, the difficulty of blood getting back to your heart from your legs," he said.

Signs of venous insufficiency include:

  • Swelling
  • Spider and varicose veins
  • Leg fatigue
  • Pain

"But I try not to focus on {pain} because I'll even have the patients say well, it's not really hurting me, it's more uncomfortable. And that's enough. You don't have to tell me that it’s a disabling pain," he said.
Dr. Cipriano said problems with veins don't go away once a baby is born.

“The injury is then incurred, and now we're dealing with the aftermath. And you'd love to think that things will snap back and come back to just the way they were," he said.

He said to think of this situation like a water balloon: once it's filled with water and stretched out, it can't just immediately bounce back to where it was before if the water's emptied out. It's the same concept,= with your veins.

"That pressure is there, and to remove that pressure, we don't live in that kind of vacuum to allow all the tissue to revert back to what it was. And so because of that, the disease persists," he said.

Dr. Cipriano said it may take a long time for you to even notice there's a problem.

"It smolders in the background and it's progressive like glacier movement," he said.

But when you do start to notice signs, they're very obvious.

“Do you get pain at night that wakes you up from sleep? Do you have to stand and bounce around a little bit in the middle of night when you get up and have to go to the bathroom? When you're walking, do you have difficulties going the same distance as you would go a year or two years ago or five years ago?” he said.

But Dr. Cipriano said the earlier the problem is identified, the easier the recovery. And there are ways to prevent this.

“You'll have a lot of the obstetricians, gynecologists talking to the patients, saying specifically positioning, posture, and comfort is important. And remind them to lay on their side,” he said.

He said that helps get the baby off of a woman's inferior vena cava: a large blood vessel that carries deoxygenated blood from your legs and abdomen back to your heart.

“More time spent in a recumbent position when they're resting, rather than sitting with their legs down, because they need to get the baby up and off to the side so that the blood can get back and not stay stuck in their legs," he said.

He also recommends compression socks.

“You put pressure on your legs to help propel that blood up and out," he said. “If you knew 10 years later, if you wore compression stockings when you were pregnant, and it would keep you from having these veins and varicosities on your legs, and these pains, obviously you would do it. But people don't associate the results 10 years later, with the problems that are occurring now."