Varicose Veins and Pregnancy: The Perks of Motherhood

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pregnancy varicose veins

Does Pregnancy Cause Varicose Veins?

Absolutely! According to the vascular surgeons at the Central Florida Vein and Vascular Center, the Orlando area’s premier vein care specialists, pregnancy is the number one cause of varicose veins and venous insufficiency.

Women are already prone to developing varicose veins. Pregnant women are already at a higher risk for developing pregnancy-related conditions or exacerbating existing conditions that previously were under control. Pregnancy also contributes to water retention, hemorrhoids and other serious ailments. So, adding varicose veins to the list can put some women over the top. Varicose veins often enlarge during pregnancy and the risk of phlebitis, inflammation of the vein walls, in varicose veins is much higher at the end of a pregnancy and immediately after.

What Are Varicose Veins?

The main purpose of normal veins is to return blood from the legs back to the heart.  During pregnancy, the superficial veins weaken and lose their ability to empty the legs.  This leads to increased pressure and congestion and presents as enlarged veins, leg swelling, and discoloration, not to mention heaviness and fatigue.  This weakening of the superficial veins occurs inside the veins at the valve level. There is a weakening of the vein valves in pregnancy.

Why Do Varicose Veins Occur During Pregnancy?

There are two reasons why the vein system becomes damaged during pregnancy.

Hormonal

The hormones of pregnancy with high estrogen and progesterone levels actually degrade the vein valves, rendering the veins less effective in pumping blood out of the leg.  Veins show signs of weakening even in the first few weeks of pregnancy long before the pressure problems begin.  Spider veins and sunburst patterns in the skin can start sprouting at the very earliest stages because of these hormonal changes.

Fluid & Pressure Build Up

Obviously, pregnant women experience tremendous increase in their blood volume and suffer fluid retention.  As this worsens throughout pregnancy, more and more hydrostatic pressure is placed on the vein system, overpowering the vein valves once again.  As the pregnant uterus grows, it puts pressure on the inferior vena cava, the main vein in the abdomen that returns blood to the heart.

Does Pregnancy Lead to Varicose Veins?

One study suggested that when women were evaluated before and after pregnancy, the women who had thought they developed varicose veins during their pregnancy already had existing varicose veins prior. The reality is that while varicose veins can develop at any time, pre-existing varicose veins tend to worsen, and thus become more noticeable, during pregnancy because of hormonal changes, specifically a rise in progesterone, which causes the blood vessel walls to relax, and an increase in blood volume. So, varicose veins in the legs are not actually caused by pregnancy. Interestingly, though, there is a specific varicose vein found only in women who have both been pregnant and had a normal delivery: the vaginal or vulvar varicose vein.

What Is Vulvar Varicosities?

You may notice bulging veins in the vaginal or vulvar area throughout your pregnancy.  This is a form of varicose vein that although not more dangerous, can be quite miserable and unsightly.

The symptoms of vulvar varicose veins include a feeling of fullness or pressure, swelling and discomfort in the area. Thankfully, vulvar varicose veins don’t typically have a great effect on labor and delivery. Because these veins tend to have a low blood flow, any bleeding is easily controlled. What’s more, vulvar varicose veins usually subside naturally within about six weeks after delivery.

How To Treat Varicose Veins In Pregnant Women?

Elevate your legs above the level of your heart

Venous pressure buildup is worsened by gravity and relieved by elevation.

Manage your weight

The more we weigh, the more gravity affects our body and our legs, worsening the pressure build-up.  Keep your weight gain to a healthy level during your pregnancy.

Exercise

As with your overall health, your vein system is healthier when you exercise.  As your pregnancy progresses, exercise in the swimming pool is excellent for your leg health.  We are more buoyant in the water and weigh less, and the cool water causes vasoconstriction and counteracts the vasodilatation caused by the hot Florida weather.

Sleep on your left side

The inferior vena cava, the main vein in the abdomen that returns blood to the heart sits on the right side of the abdomen.  As your pregnancy progresses and the uterus gets bigger, there is more pressure in the confined space in the abdomen.  Anything to offload the right side of the abdomen might help.

External compression

Compression stockings counteract the pressure buildup in the legs and should be worn throughout the day in all pregnant women when possible.  The beneficial effects of compression stockings are tremendous and can help prevent progression of varicose veins and leg swelling.

Most of the time, the visible changes in your veins improve after you deliver your baby.  You may not think you have much of a problem, but the damage done to the vein system is not reversible and is always progressive.  Don’t be surprised if over time you notice worsening of surface veins.  If you are planning another pregnancy, the best time to correct the vein abnormality is beforehand.  The changes of another pregnancy are additive and will affect your veins system worse.

If you’ve experienced any of these issues during your pregnancy, it is best to see if there are corrective measures that can be undertaken to help return you to your pre-pregnancy leg health.  The team at the Central Florida Vein and Vascular Center are dedicated to restoring your legs’ best health.

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