Does Pregnancy Cause Or Worsen Varicose Veins?
Most women are prepared for the typical side effects that come with pregnancy, such as nausea, fatigue, and food cravings. But another side effect not as commonly discussed is varicose veins.
Many women develop varicose veins during pregnancy. Or, if they already have varicose veins, their symptoms often worsen during pregnancy. This is because the mother’s blood volume increases by 40% during pregnancy to supply the baby and placenta and this extra blood volume is stored within the veins, engorging them greatly.
Also, the hormone progesterone increases during pregnancy which relaxes the smooth muscle in the wall of veins, allowing them to stretch even more. These together contribute to stress on the one-way valves in a pregnant woman’s leg veins. When these one-way valves fail to keep blood moving upward towards the heart, gravity causes the blood in the veins to flow backward, or reflux, which contributes yet further to the veins becoming enlarged, or varicose.
For women who already had varicose veins before pregnancy, symptoms such as swelling, aching, throbbing, or pain often become worse during pregnancy. Sometimes symptoms will subside after delivery, but varicose veins do not repair themselves or go away. Varicose vein disease is chronic and tends to progress with each pregnancy, so symptoms are nearly guaranteed to be more painful with each pregnancy.
What To Do About Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
Although it’s not advised to undergo treatment during pregnancy, it is recommended to have your varicose veins evaluated while still pregnant. This allows your vein specialist to fully assess the severity of your varicose veins and to pinpoint which veins are affected. This will also help you decide whether or not you want to treat your varicose veins after your baby is born.
That said, it’s crucial to be evaluated quickly if phlebitis—or inflammation from a clot within the veins—is occurring. Phlebitis may cause localized leg pain and swelling from clots that form in the superficial veins of the skin, and can be quite painful, as one young mom experienced. Severe symptoms may rarely require a blood thinning medication for a short period of time while still pregnant.
In addition to assessing the extent of your varicose veins, your vein specialist will also be able to give you tips for easing symptoms during pregnancy, such as:
- Elevate your legs above heart-level for 15-20 minutes. This helps blood flow more easily toward your heart, improving circulation in your legs. Try to do this three times a day if possible, but especially at the end of the day when symptoms are typically worse.
- Wear low-grade compression stockings to promote circulation throughout your legs.
- Avoid sitting or standing for prolonged periods, as this will increase the pressure already added to your veins during pregnancy. If you must sit or stand for long periods, try to take frequent breaks to move your legs and increase blood flow.
Your vein specialist can help you make a plan to soothe your varicose vein symptoms during pregnancy. However, if you are pregnant and begin to experience symptoms such as a vein that is painful, hardened, or warm to the touch, call your vein specialist immediately.
Should you decide to treat your varicose veins after delivery, treatment procedures would usually not begin for at least six weeks to three months after you deliver your baby. You may want to know that you will be able to continue breastfeeding through treatment, although you may be advised to pump and discard milk for one or two days immediately around the time of a procedure if mild anesthetics are used.
At East Tennessee Vein Clinic, we help many women get rid of their varicose veins so they don’t have to worry about developing more serious symptoms during or after pregnancy. When our patients learn that today’s advanced treatments are quick and outpatient, requiring little to no down time, and are typically covered by insurance, they’re glad they didn’t postpone treatment longer.
As the first physician dedicated solely to the treatment of vein disease in Tennessee, Dr. Douglass and East Tennessee Vein Clinic leads the region in experience and expertise of varicose veins. We treat veins differently than other clinics precisely because of our dedication to treating the root cause and full extent of each patient’s vein disease.
Visit us online at East Tennessee Vein Clinic, or call 866-281-VEIN, or request an appointment online today. We are offering free vein screenings through April. Please mention free screenings when making your appointment.