If Varicose Veins Get Worse With Each Pregnancy, When Is It Best To Seek Treatment?
Women who’ve experienced uncomfortable varicose veins during pregnancy often ask if they should be proactive and treat their varicose veins before any future pregnancies, or if they should wait until they’re finished having children.
It’s an excellent question for women who are pregnant or who plan to become pregnant to consider. The answer depends on a number of factors, including a woman’s own preference, the severity of the veins both before, during, and after pregnancies, and any presence of complications such as bleeding or clotting, as one young mother painfully experienced during her third pregnancy.
But first, let’s take a look at why varicose veins occur so often during pregnancy, and what women should take into account when deciding the best time to seek treatment during their childbearing years.
The Pregnancy & Varicose Vein Connection
First of all, varicose veins are not caused by pregnancy. Rather, varicose veins develops when the one-way valves within veins become weakened, which causes blood to backward flow and pool in the vein. This reflux causes the vein to swell, which is referred to as varicose veins.
That said, it’s understandable that many women assume pregnancy causes their varicose veins because that may be when the appearance of bluish, ropey veins or the uncomfortable symptoms of pain, swelling, and aching often first occur. In fact, nearly 30% of women without prior symptoms of varicose veins develop them in pregnancy.
On the other hand, if a woman has already had signs of varicose veins, she may notice that either the physical appearance of the veins become worse, and/or the uncomfortable symptoms of swelling, heaviness, or aching intensify during pregnancy.
Varicose veins tend to occur or worsen during pregnancy because a woman’s blood volume increases by 40% to supply oxygen and nutrients to the baby and placenta. This extra blood is stored in the veins, which causes already weakened veins to worsen quickly during pregnancy. In addition, the expanding uterus puts pressure on the veins and pregnancy hormones relax the walls of the veins.
While varicose veins typically occur on the legs, ankles, and feet, it’s not uncommon during pregnancy for them to appear around the vagina and buttocks, either.
Varicose veins may get smaller after delivery, but they usually do not go back to their pre-pregnancy state. For some women, varicose veins may appear to shrink or disappear, at least on the surface of the skin, after childbirth. For others, varicose veins remain obvious and problematic after childbirth.
Regardless of whether varicose veins appear to improve or not after delivery, they typically do get worse with each future pregnancy as well as with the passage of time.
On top of that, a woman’s family history plays a large role in the development and progression of varicose veins since weak or failed veins are largely a genetic predisposition. Women who are older, who sit or stand for long periods, and who are overweight or obese also have an increased risk for varicose veins.
What To Do Before, During, Or After Pregnancies
While you can’t prevent the circulatory and bodily changes that occur during pregnancy, there are some ways you can try to minimize discomfort from varicose veins.
- Change positions regularly. Take breaks to stand if you have to sit for long periods, or to sit down if you’ve been standing.
- Elevate your legs above heart level for 15-20 minutes, particularly at the end of the day, to improve circulation in your legs.
- Wear maternity compression stockings to help stimulate blood flow. These are special types of support hosiery that stimulate blood circulation from the legs towards the heart. However, be careful to avoid wearing tight hose that cut off circulation. Talk to your doctor or vein specialist to make sure you’re wearing the appropriate grade compression stocking.
- Sleep on your left side to relieve pressure on the large vein, or inferior vena cava, that’s on the right side of your body. Lying on your left side relieves the weight of your uterus from this large vein, which in turn relieves pressure on the veins in your legs and feet.
- Avoid high heels. Flats or low-heeled shoes engage your calf muscles, promoting better circulation.
- Avoid crossing your legs while sitting as this can impede circulation.
- Cut back on salt, which can cause swelling, and drink lots of water.
When To Seek Help
While it’s not advised to undergo treatment during pregnancy, it is wise to have your varicose veins evaluated before, during, or after any pregnancies. This allows your vein specialist to assess the full extent of your varicose veins in order to evaluate which veins are likely to persist postpartum or be more prone to fail in later years.
It’s also important to be evaluated if phlebitis—or inflammation because of a clot within veins—is occurring, as one young mother experienced. Phlebitis can be quite painful and may cause localized leg pain and swelling from clots that form in the superficial veins of the skin. Severe symptoms may rarely require a blood thinning medication for a short period of time while still pregnant.
Should you decide to treat your varicose veins after delivery, treatment procedures don’t usually begin for at least 6 weeks to 3 months after you deliver your baby. You can 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 require little to no down time, plus are typically covered by insurance, they’re glad they didn’t postpone treatment longer.
As the first physician dedicated solely to the treatment of varicose vein disease in Tennessee, Dr. Douglass and his staff at the East Tennessee Vein Clinic lead the region in experience and expertise of varicose vein treatments. Our dedication to diagnosing and treating the root cause and full extent of each patient’s varicose vein disease distinguishes us from other varicose vein clinics.