4 Things to Know About Pregnancy and Varicose Veins
Pregnancy brings a host of changes to your body. In addition to an expanding belly, you may see some unwelcome pregnancy side effects, like the appearance of varicose veins on your legs. Why do pregnancy and varicose veins seem to go hand-in-hand, and how can you get rid of those unsightly visible veins once and for all?
1. What are Varicose Veins?
Let’s start with the basics. What are varicose veins, and what causes them to form?
Your veins are responsible for carrying blood back to the heart. The veins in your legs have to work even harder to move the blood all the way from your feet to your heart. Tiny valves inside your veins keep the blood moving in the right direction. When those valves become damaged, blood can start to pool inside the vessel, creating the appearance of varicose veins.
During pregnancy, the amount of blood in your vessels increases to ensure you and your baby get all the oxygen and nutrients necessary to thrive. More blood moving through the veins adds pressure that can cause the valves inside to weaken, resulting in the formation of varicose veins.
Increased blood flow isn’t the only culprit causing those visible veins during pregnancy, however. Your hormones are in flux mode throughout those nine months, supporting your body through the essential job of keeping your developing baby safe and healthy. Those same hormones can also affect the valves inside your veins, creating the perfect environment for varicose veins.
There is one final factor that increases your risk for varicose veins during pregnancy. Your growing belly can put additional strain on your leg veins, making it even more challenging to move blood back to the heart. When the veins can’t work as efficiently due to the extra weight of your baby, varicose veins are often the result.
2. More Than a Cosmetic Problem
Varicose veins are most likely to appear during the second trimester and persist throughout the rest of pregnancy. While you are unlikely to appreciate their appearance, they can also create issues beyond cosmetic embarrassment.
Some women may experience symptoms such as:
- Leg heaviness or achiness
- Itching or burning around the veins
- Swelling of the legs and feet
- Cramping, particularly at night
- Restless leg syndrome
While these symptoms don’t indicate a serious medical concern, they can be uncomfortable, especially when you are experiencing other pregnancy side effects already. The good news is that many women find the visible veins, and their symptoms resolve once that little bundle of joy makes an appearance.
If you are feeling the effects of varicose veins, especially at the end of a busy day, there are a few steps you can take to relieve the symptoms.
- Elevating your legs will take some of the pressure off those hard-working veins, relieving discomfort and swelling in many cases.
- Limit the amount of time you spend on your feet and stick with flat shoes rather than heels.
- Some women find that wearing compression socks during the day gives their veins the support they need to keep the blood moving.
3. You Can Lower Your Risk for Varicose Veins
Let’s be clear here: you can’t always stop varicose veins from developing during pregnancy. This is especially true if your mom had varicose veins when she was carrying you since there is a strong genetic link to these visible vessels. You also can’t do anything about the hormonal fluctuations or the additional blood flow that naturally occurs during those nine months.
There are some ways to lower your risk for varicose veins, however. Consider these steps before those pesky vessels start to appear:
- Do some light exercise like walking daily to support blood flow in your legs.
- Eat a healthy diet to nourish your veins and promote healthy blood flow.
- Avoid prolonged periods of standing or walking; take breaks to stretch and shift position.
- Elevate your legs at the end of the day (or throughout the day, if you can).
- Sleep on your left side to take pressure off the inferior vena cava (main leg vein).
- Wear compression stockings to keep blood moving back up the legs to the heart.
4. Varicose Veins That Don’t Go Away Can be Treated
Many women find that varicose veins resolve after pregnancy. Others might see those vessels persist months after their baby is born. If you haven’t seen the improvement in your veins you were hoping for, treatment options are available.
Many varicose vein procedures are quick, relatively comfortable, and do not require downtime afterward. In some cases, insurance will even cover some or all of the procedure if your doctor determines treatment is medically necessary.
Some of the most popular treatments include:
This injectable procedure delivers a liquid (sclerosing agent) into the affected vein. The solution seals the vein closed, causing it to collapse. The body reabsorbs the vein over time, and blood naturally reroutes to healthy vessels nearby.
Varithena works in a similar fashion to sclerotherapy, but instead of using a liquid solution, this procedure delivers a foam agent into the vein. The foam spreads into the vein, making it a minimally invasive option for larger veins that can’t be treated with traditional sclerotherapy.
This innovative treatment uses a medical-grade adhesive to seal diseased veins closed. The adhesive is delivered via a narrow catheter, and the procedure only takes a few minutes to complete.
This treatment uses radiofrequency energy to heat the inside of the vein, causing it to seal closed, and collapse. Like these other procedures, the treated vein gets reabsorbed by the body over time, improving your appearance and relieving symptoms.
For veins that are still too large to treat with injectable treatments, ambulatory phlebectomy is a good alternative. This procedure removes diseased veins from the leg via tiny incisions that don’t leave noticeable scarring behind. It is much less invasive than surgical vein treatments of the past, without the need for general anesthesia, a stay in the hospital, or an extended recovery process.
Pregnancy and varicose veins may not be your favorite combination, but rest assured, those visible vessels result from your body working hard to nurture your growing baby. This side effect of pregnancy may not resolve after birth. Remember, there are plenty of minimally invasive treatments that will reduce their appearance and restore your self-confidence.