Without a doubt, pregnancy is a miraculous journey that brings about many changes in your body. At the same time, many of these changes are anticipated and celebrated 一 hello, beautiful baby bump! 一 Some changes can be less-than-pleasant, like swollen ankles and varicose veins.
Are you concerned about varicose veins during pregnancy? Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of board-certified, fellowship-trained vascular surgeons at Vascular Specialists in Tinley Park, Illinois, and Munster, Indiana.
In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about varicose veins, why they occur during pregnancy, and how to manage and prevent them.
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins that most often develop in your legs, although they can form anywhere. They’re a result of weakened or damaged vein walls and valves. When a vein’s one-way valve doesn’t function properly, your blood may pool and form a visible lump under your skin.
Varicose veins are often mistaken as solely cosmetic issues, but the reality is that they aren’t just an aesthetic concern. Left untreated, varicose veins can contribute to:
- Cramping and leg pain
- Itching and burning sensations
- Increased risk of blood clots
- Leg swelling
- Increased risk of venous ulcers
While anyone can develop varicose veins, they’re more common in women, particularly during pregnancy, due to the changes your body undergoes.
Causes of varicose veins during pregnancy
During pregnancy, some factors that contribute to the development of varicose veins include:
The increase in hormone levels, particularly progesterone, can cause vein walls to relax, leading to decreased vein tone and increased risk of varicose veins.
Increased blood volume
Your body produces more blood during pregnancy to support your growing baby. Your blood volume increases by about 45%, and by the end of your third trimester, your plasma volume increases by about 60%! While this additional volume is necessary to support both you and your baby, it puts extra pressure on your veins, potentially leading to varicose veins.
As your uterus expands, it can pressure the veins in your pelvis, hindering blood flow from the lower body and contributing to varicose veins. This can also contribute to another type of vascular issue: hemorrhoids.
Family history of varicose veins
Genetic predisposition plays a role in the development of varicose veins. You may be more susceptible if your family has a history of vein issues.
Preventing and managing varicose veins during pregnancy
While it's not always possible to completely prevent varicose veins during pregnancy, you can take steps to manage and alleviate their symptoms.
Regular prenatal exercises like walking, swimming, and yoga help improve blood circulation and strengthen vein walls. Pregnant or not, walking is one of the best exercises for varicose veins.
Reminder: Never start a new exercise regimen without speaking to your OB/GYN or midwife first, and only engage in pregnancy-safe activities.
Elevate your legs
Are you tired after a long day? Prop up your feet when you relax on the couch. Elevating your legs when resting can help reduce the pressure on your veins and promote better blood flow. This tip can also help manage ankle swelling, another common pregnancy complaint.
Wear compression stockings
Graduated compression stockings can provide external support to your veins and help improve circulation. Always use stockings as directed by a physician.
Focus on healthy weight gain
Weight gain, a risk factor for varicose veins, is unavoidable during pregnancy. It’s necessary! Most women should aim to gain 25-35 pounds. Managing a healthy weight during pregnancy can help minimize the strain on your veins.
Avoid prolonged sitting or standing.
If your daily routine involves extended periods of sitting or standing, try to take breaks and move around to encourage blood flow. Set reminders on your phone to stand up, stretch, and walk around.
Hydrate and eat a balanced diet.
Staying hydrated and consuming fiber-rich foods can help prevent constipation which can contribute to hemorrhoids. Foods that support good vascular function include fatty fish (eat low-mercury options when pregnant), olive oil, cinnamon, walnuts, and turmeric.
Sleep on your left side.
Sleeping on your left side can alleviate pressure on the major vein that returns blood from your lower body to your heart. Add a pillow between your thighs or one under your baby bump for comfort.
Need help managing varicose veins?
Varicose veins are common during pregnancy, but understanding why they develop and taking proactive measures can help you manage their symptoms and even prevent their onset.
If you develop varicose veins during pregnancy, we offer many options for treating varicose and spider veins at our VCI Med Spa once your baby is born. From sclerotherapy to VenaSeal™, we can help eliminate the bothersome symptoms of varicose veins.
When you’re ready to explore your options, contact Vascular Specialists to schedule an appointment.