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The ABC’s for Women’s Leg Health

By The Vascular Vein Centers Team

Women face unique leg health problems even though there is no distinction between men and women from an arterial and orthopedic perspective. Vein problems are much more common in women, and the reasons are clear.

Pregnancy puts pressure on your legs.

The most significant reason is pregnancy. There is a 50% increase in total body water—most of it in the legs, causing dilation of leg veins and leg swelling. The excess fluid is eventually lost post-delivery and the veins shrink, but they don’t go back to their initial size. With each pregnancy they grow larger, and if you inherited a “weakness” of the wall or your job consists of prolonged standing or sitting, there is ongoing stretch. Also, when you become pregnant, your uterus compresses the pelvic veins, creating resistance to blood flow from the legs.

For these reasons, women are also at an increased risk of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) while pregnant, and the risk continues for several weeks post-delivery. 

VVC Leg Health Tip: Try to keep weight gain to approximately 20-30 pounds, wear compression, take every opportunity to elevate the legs, and lie on the left side when resting or sleeping. Get in a swimming pool to relieve some of the pressure on your legs.

Oral Contraceptives increase your risk for blood clots.

Oral contraception and hormonal replacement, especially with high estrogen content, predisposes women to venous thrombosis (DVT). Birth control with the lowest possible estrogen content is advisable, especially if there is a personal or family history of clots. For overweight women, Birth control pills should generally be avoided entirely. Also a woman with cancer should avoid birth control pills and hormone replacement or consult her oncologist. 

Obesity restricts the flow of blood from your legs.

Obesity increases the chances of varicose veins and DVT because of increased abdominal pressure. This increases resistance to the outflow of blood from the legs to the heart—increasing the diameter of leg veins and the chances of back leakage and pooling of blood in the lower legs.

Tight fitting undergarments women use for a slimmer appearance, such as girdles or Spanx, increase resistance to flow, causing veins to distend. When outflow is restricted, women may experience swelling or become vulnerable to DVT, especially when traveling in a confined space.

VVC Leg Health Tip: Try to lose one pound a week, wear compression and stay active. Walking is recommended, but the weight of walking may wear down the knees. If you are obese or have knee problems, try swimming or water aerobics. 

Jobs that increase your risk.

Since women make up much of the workforce—especially in jobs that require long periods of sitting or standing like beauticians, chefs, waitresses, teachers and nurses —their chance of developing vein problems increases. Women who sit for a living aren’t immune. Pressure at the groin and at the knee decrease return of blood and distend veins. This is exacerbated by obesity and constricting garments. All of these factors increase the chances of developing leaky valves in the veins and also increase the chances of DVT. 

VVC Leg Health Tip: If you have a job with prolonged standing and even prolonged sitting, wear compression socks, elevate your legs when possible, and avoid heels and constricting garments.

The ABCs of Ladies’ Leg Health

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