Cardiovascular disease is common in the United States, especially among older adults. Among adults, there is a category of individuals who may be at risk for development unsuspecting cardiovascular disease; pregnant women. For many pregnant women, complications associated with Deep Vein Thrombosis, DVT, is often confused with Varicose Vein development. Understanding the cause, symptoms, prevention and treatment for both DVT and varicose veins, will assist a pregnant woman in the transition from pregnancy to post-partum successfully.
Deep Vein Thrombosis, also known as DVT, is a life threatening cardiovascular complication of the general adult population but, especially, of concern to pregnant women and a developing fetus. DVT is a condition in which a blood clot develops, normally, in the lower extremities. For pregnant women, as the uterus enlarges, circulation through the lower extremities is often restricted, to some degree. As a result, the pregnant woman is, commonly, at risk for developing DVT as DVT is most likely attributed to lack of blood circulation throughout the body.
When suffering from DVT, the pregnant woman will commonly notice sudden burning and pain in the calf area. For many pregnant women, the pain is confused as muscle cramping resulting in an effort to walk off the pain. However, with DVT during pregnancy, walking will, in most cases, worsen the pain associated with DVT. As a result, when pain and swelling in the calf is present, the pregnant woman should consult a healthcare professionally immediately to determine if DVT is at issue.
When positively diagnosed, the most likely DVT treatment option will involve hospital admission, with administration of an anti-coagulant (blood thinning agent), and the use of compression socks; all considered a method for alleviating DVT complications. The issue of most concern to the healthcare professional, when treating a pregnant woman with DVT, is to avoid the expanding of the blood clot or to avoid the breakdown of the blood clot in such a way so as to create a risk in which part of the clot travels to the fine, thin veins of the lungs which can then lead to pulmonary embolism and, ultimately, death of the pregnant woman.
In contrast to Deep Vein Thrombosis, pregnant women are also at risk for developing a different, yet similar, type of cardiovascular complication known as varicose veins. While unsightly, varicose veins, for the most part, are not life threatening and, in fact, do not lead to long term health complications. As stated, during pregnancy, as the uterus enlarges, pressure is placed against the circulatory system, especially on the right side. As a result, blood flow within the pregnant women’s body is often restricted. As this occurs, veins may begin to enlarge, become slightly twisted and press against the skin resulting in the appearance of purplish blue veins on the lower legs of a pregnant woman.
While varicose veins are not painful, they are unsightly and definitely indicate a cardiovascular complication in the pregnant woman. To treat varicose veins, a healthcare professional will commonly prescribe pregnancy hosiery which are designed so as to alleviate some of the weight on a uterus, thereby relieving pressure to the right side of the body and allow for more efficient blood flow. Additionally, for pregnant women seeking to improve varicose veins, resting with the feet elevated and sleeping on the left side will also promote health blood flow during pregnancy.
In cases of DVT, Deep Vein Thrombosis, as well as varicose veins, practicing healthy exercise and diet will work to ensure and prevent development of these pregnancy related complications. To prevent DVT and varicose veins, pregnant women should avoid sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time, and rotate sitting and standing, when in excess, with a break for 30 minutes. In addition to break periods, pregnant women should, as a general rule, obtain, at least, 30 minutes of light cardio activity per day, even if only to leisurely walk. In doing so, blood flow is improved and will prevent the development of DVT and varicose vein complications.
For more information regarding pregnancy related cardiovascular complications, visit www.nmh.org.