Pregnancy is a blessing, but it also comes with a lot of changes to the body that aren’t the most pleasant. Most women are well aware that they will experience weight gain, swelling, a roller coaster of emotions, disrupted sleep, and unique food cravings.
But one thing that might not be on your pregnancy radar is problems with your veins. Varicose veins are among the most common pregnancy complications, affecting up to 40% of pregnant women.
While varicose veins are usually not harmful to you or your baby, they are a visual nuisance for many women and can make your legs feel heavy, sore, tired, and even itchy.
If you are concerned about developing varicose veins during pregnancy, we’re sure you want to know how to prevent them. Or, if you’re already bothered by varicose veins that have shown up during your pregnancy, you no doubt want to know how to make them go away. We’re here to help!
In this article, we will discuss five key things to know about pregnancy and varicose veins. We will also provide expert insight from vein specialists on whether or not they are something you should be worried about, symptoms, risk factors, measures to help prevent them, and treatment options should they not go away after your baby is born.
WHAT ARE VARICOSE VEINS?
Essentially, varicose veins, which look like twisted, bulging ropes under your skin and can be itchy or painful, are the result of blood flow issues stemming from weakened vein valves, which is common during pregnancy.
To understand varicose veins better, let’s first look at the role of veins in your body. Veins are crucial blood vessels that carry blood from various parts of your body back to your heart. They play a fundamental role in the circulation of blood.
Within these veins, you’ll find tiny flap-like structures known as valves. These valves have a specific job: they help control the one-way flow of blood toward the heart. They open to allow blood to move forward and then close to prevent it from flowing backward.
When these valves aren’t functioning correctly, they can weaken or fail, allowing blood to flow in the wrong direction and gather in the veins. This pooling results in the enlargement and twisting of the affected veins, making them visible on the skin’s surface – these are known as varicose veins.
Varicose veins should not be confused with spider veins, which are also common during pregnancy. Both conditions involve visible veins, but varicose veins are typically larger, have a twisted appearance, and are associated with discomfort and pain. Spider veins are smaller, resemble a web-like or branching pattern on the skin, and do not typically produce painful symptoms.
WHY ARE VARICOSE VEINS COMMON DURING PREGNANCY?
The reason why women are more likely to develop varicose veins during pregnancy is cumulative. Pregnancy adds strain to your circulatory system in several ways.
First, your blood volume increases during pregnancy. The blood coursing through your body gradually expands as your baby develops. Blood plasma experiences a substantial increase of 40-50%, accompanied by a 20-30% surge in red blood cell mass. As a result, your veins find themselves tasked with transporting a notably larger blood volume.
Second, as your baby develops, the growing weight exerts force on the inferior vena cava, a large vein responsible for collecting blood from the lower portion of your body and conveying it to your heart. The pressure placed on the inferior vena cava contributes to the expansion of veins in your legs.
And third, changes in your hormonal levels during pregnancy can also play a role in developing varicose veins. Estrogen and progesterone can play a role in the development of varicose veins. For example, maintaining a healthy pregnancy requires elevated progesterone levels. Yet, this hormone also has the effect of compromising vein valves and relaxing vein walls.
The combination of these three changes during pregnancy results in a higher likelihood of blood flowing backward due to relaxed valves and veins undergoing more significant expansion than usual due to weakened and stretched vein walls, elevating your risk of developing varicose veins.
5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT PREGNANCY AND VARICOSE VEINS
Pregnancy comes with its share of changes, and varicose veins are one of them. There are many varicose vein myths and varicose veins are often misunderstood, especially when they happen during pregnancy.
Here are five key insights to shed light on the connection between pregnancy and varicose veins:
1: Varicose Veins Don’t Typically Show Up Until Later In Pregnancy
Varicose veins can appear at any stage of pregnancy, but they usually don’t appear until the second trimester and tend to worsen as your due date approaches. This occurs due to the increased pressure exerted by the growing uterus on the pelvic veins, disrupting the blood flow in the leg veins of expectant mothers.
Varicose veins are most likely to develop in the inner thigh and calf muscles, as these areas endure the most significant stress from standing and walking. However, varicose veins can occur anywhere on the legs. They can also appear in other regions of the body.
In women, they may manifest in the pelvic area and vulva, occasionally causing discomfort, especially during pregnancy. Additionally, varicose veins can develop in the rectal area, a condition recognized as hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids are a prevalent concern during pregnancy, often resulting from the increased pressure on blood vessels in the rectal region due to the growing uterus, which can lead to discomfort and pain.
2: If You Already Have Varicose or Spider Veins, Pregnancy Might Make Them Worse
If you already have varicose or spider veins, the changes your body undergoes during pregnancy may make them worse and more painful.
Pregnancy leads to an increase in blood volume, hormonal changes, and physical pressure on the veins—factors that collectively intensify the development and symptoms of preexisting varicose and spider veins.
3: If Your Mom Had Varicose Veins, You Are More Likely To Have Them Too
Varicose veins often have a hereditary component. If your mother or grandmother experienced varicose veins during their pregnancies or if you have a family history of these vein issues, the likelihood of developing them yourself increases.
Ask your family if they had vein problems during pregnancy. If you are considering getting pregnant, it is best to talk with a vein specialist, even before becoming pregnant.
4: Varicose Veins are More Likely with Multiple Pregnancies
With each additional pregnancy, maintaining vein elasticity becomes more difficult. The continuous stretching of the veins disrupts the valve’s natural functioning, leading to improper blood flow.
Also, if you developed varicose veins with a previous pregnancy, there is a higher probability of new varicose veins forming or the ones you have worsening.
If you plan to have multiple pregnancies, you should speak with a vein specialist to better understand your risks and have a game plan to help you navigate this aspect of your maternal journey more comfortably.
5: You Might Be Susceptible To Other Vein Issues During Pregnancy
Vein problems during pregnancy aren’t limited to varicose veins. The changes in your body can lead to various vein-related conditions.
Similarly to varicose veins, these conditions often occur due to the altered dynamics of blood flow, hormonal shifts, and/or the physical demands of pregnancy.
Aside from varicose veins, here are some common vein issues that can present during pregnancy:
These painless, web-like veins often surface during pregnancy. They appear due to increased pressure on your blood vessels, causing them to dilate. Hormonal changes can also play a role in their development.
Spider veins are usually no reason for concern, but their appearance can be bothersome for some expectant mothers.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)
Chronic venous insufficiency, or CVI, is a form of venous disease where your veins have issues moving blood back to the heart. This can happen in pregnancy because the growing uterus places pressure on pelvic veins.
CVI can result in swollen lower legs, itchy skin, and venous ulcers. It’s also responsible for the bulging appearance of veins.
Blood Clots/Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
During pregnancy, the risk of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is higher. DVT is primarily linked to changes in your blood composition, especially as clotting factors increase, particularly as you approach delivery.
These blood clots are commonly found in the deep veins of your legs and can be a serious medical concern. The risk is highest in the first trimester and during the first six weeks following childbirth.
If you have varicose veins, watch for signs of a blood clot. While blood clots that occur in varicose veins are usually smaller and less dangerous, they can still be serious. If you think you may have a blood clot, seek immediate medical attention.
Most people don’t realize it, but hemorrhoids are essentially a type of varicose vein that occurs explicitly in the rectal or anal area. During pregnancy, hemorrhoids are common for similar reasons that other varicose veins might develop.
Additionally, many expectant women grapple with constipation, which can contribute to the strain during bowel movements – a well-recognized factor in developing hemorrhoids.
More Prominent Breast Veins
When pregnant, you may also notice that the veins in your breasts are much more visible under the skin. These veins are not varicose veins or any type of vein disorder.
You have more prominent breast veins during pregnancy due to increased blood volume and a surge of pregnancy hormones. This is entirely normal, temporary, and nothing to worry about.
SHOULD I BE WORRIED ABOUT VARICOSE VEINS DURING PREGNANCY?
While varicose veins can be uncomfortable, they are generally considered harmless in the short term. It’s not uncommon for expectant mothers to experience varicose veins during pregnancy, with approximately 1 in 4 pregnant women encountering this issue.
However, it’s important to be aware that a small subset of women faces an increased risk of developing blood clots in their veins as a result of varicose veins.
If you begin to notice concerning changes in the skin over your varicose veins, such as pain, discoloration, or a tendency to bleed, you should promptly reach out to a vein specialist for a thorough evaluation.
CAN I PREVENT VARICOSE VEINS IN PREGNANCY?
The primary reasons women often get varicose veins during pregnancy are the weight gain and increased blood volume that comes with pregnancy, which adds pressure on the veins– two things that aren’t exactly avoidable.
While you can’t control these natural aspects of pregnancy, there are many do’s and don’ts for healthy veins, and a few steps you can take to minimize the impact pregnancy has on your veins.
Some preventative measures include:
- Avoid prolonged standing and sitting
- Sleep on your left side to take strain off the inferior vena cava vein
- Keep your legs elevated as much as possible
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Implement an exercise regime for varicose veins to improve your blood circulation
- Don’t wear high heels if possible
- Wear compression stockings to help improve blood flow
CAN I TREAT VARICOSE VEINS DURING PREGNANCY?
It is typically advised to wait about six months after giving birth to explore varicose vein treatment. This is because they might go away on their own! Often, any varicose veins you develop during pregnancy will go away soon after you have your baby.
Additionally, while today’s varicose vein treatments are safe and many are minimally invasive, it is typically advised to not have varicose vein treatment while pregnant or nursing.
If you have varicose veins during pregnancy and they are causing extreme discomfort, or they haven’t gone away within six months of delivering your baby, you can make an appointment with a vein specialist to evaluate your condition.
You can also implement the tips mentioned above to help lessen the severity of symptoms and prevent your varicose veins from worsening.
HOW TO INCREASE THE CHANCES OF VARICOSE VEINS GOING AWAY AFTER PREGNANCY
You can explore many non-surgical and surgical treatment options once you are no longer pregnant or breastfeeding, which we will touch on next.
However, most women with varicose veins from pregnancy don’t need treatment because they typically go away on their own 6 to 12 weeks after giving birth.
Here are a few things you can do to speed up and increase the chances of your varicose veins going away without treatment:
Not only should you avoid long periods of sitting or standing, limit crossing your legs, and keep your legs elevated while nursing or resting – the most important thing you can do to get rid of varicose veins after pregnancy is to stay active.
Varicose veins typically respond very well to simple lifestyle changes in how you move and hold your body. Exercise helps keep things moving with your circulatory system. Exercise is also great for weight loss. If you put on an unhealthy amount of weight during pregnancy and do not lose it, this could negatively impact your chances of your varicose veins going away.
Refresh your body with stretching and yoga poses for healthy veins. Go on daily walks and incorporate a more vigorous cardio and strength training routine once you are cleared for more strenuous exercise.
Change Your Diet
You might also want to make some dietary changes. While a healthy diet can’t remove varicose veins, it can help lessen symptoms and promote better vein health.
Eat more foods with fiber, flavonoids, and rutin, and eat less saturated foods and processed foods, which have a lot of salt.
Wear Compression Garments
Another thing that might help your varicose veins go away on their own is wearing compression garments. Compression garments, particularly compression stockings, support your legs by helping your blood travel back toward the heart instead of remaining in your legs.
You can get a prescription for compression stockings from your doctor. You can also get compression socks over the counter at a drug or medical supply store.
Don’t Smoke and Limit Alcohol
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can significantly hinder the natural healing process of varicose veins after pregnancy. These habits impede healthy circulation and put additional strain on your blood vessels.
Smoking affects varicose veins two primary ways. The toxins in cigarettes can damage blood vessels and reduce blood flow, making it harder for your body to naturally resolve varicose veins. Smoking can also increase inflammation, which is counterproductive to the healing process.
Excessive alcohol intake can lead to dehydration, which can exacerbate varicose veins. Proper hydration is crucial for vein health, and excessive alcohol consumption can compromise it. Additionally, alcohol can dilate blood vessels, potentially worsening the symptoms of varicose veins.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR VARICOSE VEINS AFTER PREGNANCY
If your varicose veins don’t go away on their own and you do not plan to get pregnant again soon, you can make an appointment with a vein specialist to discuss the best treatment to get rid of your varicose veins.
Here are some of the most widely used techniques for varicose vein removal:
Sclerotherapy is a quick and relatively painless non-surgical procedure. It involves injecting a specialized chemical solution into the affected vein. This solution causes the vein walls to swell, stick together, and seal shut, effectively stopping the blood flow. Over time, the damaged veins transform into scar tissue and gradually dissolve, typically within a few weeks post-treatment.
Sclerotherapy is generally well-tolerated and has a high success rate, often requiring just one treatment. You will need to wear compression stockings for a short time following the procedure, but other than that, the downtime following sclerotherapy is minimal.
Laser treatment for varicose veins is a popular treatment to consider. One laser technique is laser ablation, also known as endovenous laser ablation therapy (EVLT), endovenous ablation, or just endovenous.
Laser ablation is a minimally invasive procedure designed to stop the blood flow in the affected veins that is causing enlarged varicose veins. During the procedure, a vein surgeon makes a small incision and inserts a specialized laser fiber into the problematic vein.
The laser emits targeted energy, causing the vein to close and seal. As a result, blood is rerouted through healthier veins, allowing the varicose veins to gradually fade from view.
Following laser ablation, your leg will be bandaged for about five days, and you’ll need to wear compression stockings until your stitches are removed, usually about three weeks post-surgery.
Ambulatory phlebectomy is an outpatient surgical procedure a vein specialist performs to address small varicose veins. The procedure is performed with a local anesthetic, so you will feel no pain.
During ambulatory phlebectomy, tiny incisions are made near the targeted varicose veins, allowing for their precise removal in manageable pieces.
Post-treatment, compression stockings should be worn for approximately one week to minimize any potential swelling. Recovery typically involves minimal downtime, enabling you to resume your daily activities quickly.
Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) is a cutting-edge vein treatment that uses radiofrequency energy to address larger varicose veins.
This technique involves the controlled application of radiofrequency waves to the inner vein walls, gently heating them and causing controlled damage. This ultimately leads to vein closure and gradual healing.
RFA is a minimally invasive procedure with minimal recovery time. Although compression stockings are advised following the procedure, you can typically resume normal activities immediately. However, a few days of rest are recommended.
VenaSeal™ is a groundbreaking and virtually painless solution for treating varicose veins that uses a specially formulated medical adhesive to seal off affected veins, offering a rapid recovery and minimal discomfort for patients.
During the procedure, the adhesive is applied to the affected vein through a tiny catheter. This adhesive seals the vein, preventing blood from flowing into it and redirecting it to healthier veins.
After the procedure, you can immediately return to normal activities. You don’t even need to wear compression stockings!
Varithena® is a foam-based treatment designed to address more complex varicose veins, such as the Greater Saphenous Vein (GSV) and previously treated veins.
During the procedure, a foam solution is injected into the problematic vein, causing it to collapse and seal. This is done in the office via a small injection. Depending on the diseased vein, the doctor may also use a small catheter. Don’t worry; the treatment site is numbed, so you won’t feel anything.
Following treatment, normal activities can be resumed immediately. However, you should avoid heavy activity for at least one week. You will also need to wear compression stockings for at least two weeks.
Ligation and Vein Stripping
If your varicose veins do not go away on their own and other less invasive options do not provide relief, surgery might be the only option you have to remove varicose veins.
Ligation and vein stripping involves tying off the damaged vein and then removing it. It is typically reserved when other, less invasive treatments have been exhausted, or the varicose veins present significant challenges.
During this procedure, the vein surgeon ties off the damaged vein, cutting off its blood supply. The compromised vein is then meticulously removed, eliminating it from the circulatory system.
Following surgery, patients may experience a recovery period that spans several weeks. During this time, it’s common to wear compression stockings to promote proper circulation and minimize postoperative swelling.
WHAT DOCTOR TREATS VARICOSE VEINS DURING PREGNANCY?
It’s best to consult a medical professional specializing in vein conditions if you’re dealing with varicose veins during pregnancy. While your obstetrician can offer guidance, a specialist with vein expertise, such as a vascular surgeon, is the most qualified choice.
Vascular surgeons are trained to diagnose and treat various vascular conditions, including varicose veins. They possess in-depth knowledge of the circulatory system and can provide an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment options to manage varicose veins safely and effectively.
BOOK AN APPOINTMENT FOR VARICOSE VEINS AT THE VEIN CENTRE IN MIDDLE TN
If you are considering becoming pregnant and have a personal history or family history of varicose veins or have developed varicose veins during pregnancy that haven’t disappeared, our vein specialists are here to help!
From spider veins to varicose veins and even deep vein thrombosis (DVT), The Vein Centre stands as the premier outpatient vein treatment center serving Belle Meade, Mt. Juliet, and Brentwood in Tennessee.
Our state-of-the-art, minimally invasive vein therapies and cutting-edge surgical techniques are designed to restore your veins to optimal health, ensuring you receive the highest standard of care.
Give The Vein Centre a call today at (615) 269-9007 to book an appointment.