Along with stretch marks and bigger feet, pregnancy may leave you with another physical reminder of your nine-month journey to parenthood: varicose veins. Research shows that 1 in 4 women have these purplish-blue, bumpy, raised lines on their legs, and that they are often caused by bodily changes during pregnancy. The good news is that 60 percent of them disappear after delivery, and those that don't can often be removed. In fact, a new technique will eliminate the need for major surgery in most severe cases.
Varicose veins (and spider veins, the less visible version) are veins that have succumbed to the pressure of the blood flowing through them. They have become permanently distended, allowing blood to pool so that you can see it though your skin. "During pregnancy, increased levels of estrogen weaken the vein walls, making you more prone to varicose and spider veins," says Luis Navarro, M.D., director of The Vein Treatment Center in New York City. The increased blood circulation required to support a developing fetus is another culprit, as is the weight and size of the uterus, which puts pressure on surrounding veins.
Most cases can be treated with sclerotherapy, which involves injecting a solution into the broken or leaky vein that collapses it and forces your blood to reroute to a healthy vein. (Future pregnancies may bring more vein problems, so you might want to hold off treatment until you're done with childbearing.) Sclerotherapy is not a permanent fix, however, and more severe cases affecting large veins have, in the past, required surgery to repair -- until now.
In a new outpatient technique recently approved by the FDA called Closure, a doctor administers local anesthesia and then inserts a catheter into the vein, sealing it shut using radiofrequency energy. Once the vein is closed, nearby healthy veins take over its function. "The Closure technique will save women both time and money -- in most cases it's half of what major surgery would cost. Plus, they will be able to walk out of the office the same day," said Robert Weiss, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at John Hopkins University School of Medicine and pioneer of the procedure.
Dr. Weiss expects hundreds of doctors will soon offer patients the Closure technique. To find one in your area, call 877/844-8346 or visit www.vnus.com.
How can you prevent varicose veins in the meantime? Experts say maintaining an exercise routine and a proper weight are key. Dr. Navarro also suggests that expectant moms wear compression stockings (two brands he recommends are Oroblu, available in department stores, and Therafirm (call 800/562-2701 for availability). And, whenever you have time, put up your feet and give your body a rest.