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Why Do Legs Cramp During Pregnancy?

Your pregnancy is an exciting time in your life as you look forward to your new arrival. Pregnancy, while thrilling, can bring new aches and pains. Your body must adapt to hold a growing baby inside. You’ll likely put on 25-35 pounds to help give your baby the nutrients needed in utero. The extra weight places stress on your muscles, joints, and your body in general. 

Many women experience leg cramps during pregnancy. If you’ve ever had a cramp in your leg, you know it can wake you out of a sound sleep. Your calf muscle contracts for no discernible reason. You may have a hard time placing your heel on the floor. Your leg may feel immobile, and you can’t move it easily. 

Dr. Carol White, vascular specialist with Dr. White's Vein Center and Morgantown SculpSure & Clear Ink, PLLC, in Morgantown, West Virginia, provides expert diagnosis and treatment for leg pain and leg cramps. 

What causes leg cramps during pregnancy? 

Doctors aren’t completely sure why women get leg cramps during pregnancy, but there are several explanations that make sense. 

Weight gain 

You’ve put on extra pounds to support your baby’s health. Your legs are supporting that excess weight, which means your calf muscles are under more stress. 

Venous insufficiency

The added weight also places extra pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in your legs. The increased pressure could weaken a valve in your leg that should open to move blood up the leg. If the valve doesn’t open properly, blood ends up flowing back down your leg instead of upward toward your heart. 

This abnormal condition, called venous insufficiency, increases the blood pressure in your lower leg and can cause cramps and other problems. 

Nutritional deficiencies

Changes in electrolytes in your body during pregnancy may cause leg cramps. Your baby is soaking up calcium and other nutrients. You may not be getting enough calcium or your body is processing it differently. A calcium or magnesium deficiency can cause muscle cramps, as well as abnormally high or low potassium levels. 

Dehydration 

If you inadvertently become dehydrated, you can suffer leg cramps. Exercise is important while you’re pregnant, but don’t overdo it in hot weather, which can dehydrate you quickly. 

When is a leg cramp dangerous?

If your leg is swollen, warm to the touch, or the skin is red, call our office right away. You need immediate medication attention. Together with leg cramps, these are signs that you could have a blood clot. Blood clots that develop in your legs can break off from the wall of the blood vessel and travel up to your lungs or heart. You could develop a pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening condition. 

Treating leg cramps 

Dr. White performs tests to rule out venous insufficiency or a clot. If you do have significant venous insufficiency, Dr. White can close off the damaged vein using a patented medical adhesive called VenaSeal, which reroutes blood to healthy veins. 

If your leg cramps aren’t dangerous, you can make some changes to your routine to help ease their frequency and severity. 

Stay hydrated

Pregnant women need between 8-10 glasses of water a day. Keep your reusable water bottle handy. 

Stretch before bed 

Dr. White can show you specific stretches for your calf muscles. Do them before bed each night. 

Wear compression stockings

Use compression hose during the day. These can increase circulation and help prevent pain and swelling in your feet and ankles after a long day, especially if your job involves standing for long periods, such as teaching or nursing. 

Get proper nutrition

Take prenatal vitamins and be sure you’re getting enough calcium and magnesium. Eat a healthy, well balanced diet. 

For expert diagnosis and treatment of your leg pain, call our office or request an appointment online today.

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