Varicose veins are common during pregnancy, but there are steps you can take to avoid discomfort and minimize your symptoms.
Studies have shown that varicose veins affect up to 40% of pregnant women. Even if you haven’t had any vein issues before, pregnancy can put you at a higher risk of developing this unsightly and often painful condition.
While enlarged and twisted veins can be uncomfortable and difficult to manage, they generally disappear once a woman has given birth. Here’s what you need to know about varicose veins during pregnancy, and how to protect your vascular health while you’re expecting.
Why Does Pregnancy Cause Varicose Veins?
As a woman’s body changes during pregnancy, a number of physiological shifts can affect overall vein health and lead to both varicose and spider veins. These include:
Increased Pressure: As the uterus expands, the growing fetus pushes on the neighboring organs and blood vessels, including the vena cava, which carries blood from the legs and feet to the heart. Blood moves from the leg veins into the pelvis, but with this added pressure the blood is less able to flow freely from the legs.
Blood Volume: Pregnant women actually have an overall higher volume of blood in their bodies. This extra fluid means there may be increased strain on the vein valves that keep blood circulating.
Hormonal Changes: During pregnancy, progesterone levels increase in the bloodstream, causing the veins to dilate. This means that blood cannot move as easily through the veins, which may cause the enlargements characteristic of venous insufficiency.
Should Pregnant Women Have Varicose Vein Surgery?
Pursuing surgery within the first six months or so after giving birth isn’t recommended, and could very well be unnecessary. If you didn’t have varicose veins until your first pregnancy, it’s actually likely that they will go away soon after you give birth.
Pregnancy is a stressful time for the body, but as you recover, it’s possible that your veins will return to normal. It can take up to three or four months, but you should continue to follow best practices for vein health in order to speed up the healing process.
How to Prevent Varicose Veins in Pregnancy
Although varicose and spider veins during pregnancy are very common, there are a number of measures you can take to minimize the possibility of developing varicose veins, or prevent your current vein health from worsening.
Stay Active: Even light exercise is great for your circulation. You don’t have to run a marathon — just a brisk walk gets the blood flowing.
Put Your Feet Up: Allowing your legs to rest above your heart counteracts the pressure on the valves, and keeps the blood flow moving more quickly out of your legs. Try to raise your feet for at least 30 minutes a day.
Wear Compression Stockings: Supportive maternity hose apply pressure to your legs, counteracting the internal blood pressure and pooling. These socks have the added benefit of helping with pregnancy-related edema, or painful swelling, which is normal but often unpleasant. Many women swear by compression socks as an affordable solution that can help relieve discomfort and potentially prevent varicose veins.
Sleep on Your Left Side: When you lie on your left side, your body weight isn’t putting pressure on the blood vessels that return blood to the heart. This may help increase blood flow and “drain” the leg veins.
Avoid High Heels: High heels change how your feet and legs distribute weight, and force the calf muscles to contract. This can put pressure on the valves and contribute to venous reflux.
Change Positions: It can be tempting to sit and settle in when you’re pregnant, especially since it may be hard to get comfortable in the first place. But it’s crucial to change your sitting position often to keep the blood flowing like it should, including through your legs.
Addressing Postpartum Varicose Veins
If you’re currently pregnant, now is a great time to talk to your doctor about following the steps above, to ensure that your veins stay as healthy as possible. Ideally, in the months following delivery you’ll find that your spider and varicose veins recede on their own. But if you continue to experience itchy, painful, and bulging veins, get in touch with the doctors at The Kimmel Institute. We can help create a treatment plan that’s right for you.