Pelvic Congestion: A Common Problem of Pregnancy

According to the Chicago Tribune, a new treatment is available for treating a painful and potentially deadly condition known as pelvic congestion, a common side effect of pregnancy.

The Pain of Pelvic Congestion

According to Stanford Health Care, a division of Stanford University, pelvic congestion syndrome is caused by varicose veins in the ovaries, which often develop during pregnancy. It can also develop as a result of cysts, fibroids and pelvic inflammatory disease.

During pregnancy, the veins swell to accommodate increased blood volume. One of the primary veins affected by pregnancy is the inferior vena cava that expands as a result of pressure on the uterus. This swelling causes the one-way valves in the ovaries that keep blood flowing in one direction to stop working. When these valves malfunction, blood pools in the veins and causes pain.

Many women who develop pelvic congestion syndrome experience pain in the pelvic region or lower abdomen. Pain may be chronic or sporadic, and for many women with the condition, pain increases during activity and subsides after rest.

Pain with menstruation and intercourse is also common. Some women with pelvic congestion syndrome experience pain during urination and bowel movements.

The risk of developing pelvic congestion increases with additional pregnancies. Women who are pregnant with multiples, like twins or triplets, have a higher risk of developing pelvic congestion syndrome.

Treating Pelvic Congestion Syndrome

Pelvic congestion syndrome can lead to the development of dangerous blood clots and high blood pressure that could lead to heart attack and stroke. Many women with pelvic congestion syndrome go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed, which increases their risk of a serious or fatal cardiac event.

Conventional treatments for pelvic congestion syndrome include switching to a high-fiber diet and increasing physical activity. Hormone therapy may also be used to reduce the size of the affected veins.

A new treatment for the condition is coil embolization, a procedure in which a tiny coil is inserted into the patient’s neck through a catheter to plug the vein and seal off the damaged area.

Once the vein is plugged and sealed, blood reroutes to other healthy veins.

Most women who choose coil embolization experience a reduction in their painful symptoms about six weeks after their procedure.

Varicose Veins

The coil embolization procedure is also a treatment for varicose veins that develop in the legs, another common side effect of pregnancy.

"Varicose veins develop in about 30 percent of pregnant women," according to Dr. Mona Alqulali, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., Ph.D.

Alqulali is a Clinton, Iowa, OB-GYN who cautions pregnant patients on the seriousness of varicose veins.

"Varicose veins can be dangerous if left untreated. Women should be aware of the symptoms and report them to their doctor," she said.

Varicose veins are swollen, gnarled and, for many people, painful and itchy. Some individuals report a feeling of burning or cramping in the lower legs and buttocks. Varicose veins can also cause skin discoloration and dryness.

Alqulali recommends that women who experience varicose veins during pregnancy stay active and elevate their legs to improve circulation.

"Walking and low-impact exercises like swimming are an excellent way to keep blood flowing during pregnancy," Alqulali said.

Other self-care treatments for varicose veins during pregnancy include adopting a low-sodium diet and laying on the left side to improve circulation and take pressure off the vena cava vein.

Pregnant women with severe cases of varicose veins may also benefit from wearing compression stockings to keep blood flowing in the right direction and reduce swelling.

Sources:

Stanford Health Care. "Pelvic Congestion Syndrome". Stanford Health Care. 2017.

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