Varicose veins affect about 40% of pregnancies and primarily develop due to two main reasons. First, as the uterus grows, it exerts increased pressure on the inferior vena cava—a major vein located on the right side of the body—resulting in elevated pressure in the leg veins. Second, a woman’s blood volume nearly doubles during pregnancy to adequately supply both herself and her baby. This places additional strain on blood vessels, especially those in the legs.
Let’s explore the factors that contribute to their development and explain how to prevent varicose veins during pregnancy.
The increase in hormone levels during pregnancy, particularly progesterone, significantly relaxes the walls of blood vessels. This relaxation can cause your vein walls to weaken. As these walls become more susceptible to stretching, the risk of developing varicose veins increases.
Concurrently, the rise in blood pressure that occurs during pregnancy places additional strain on the veins’ valves. These valves are essential for making sure blood flows in one direction back to the heart. When they are malfunctioning or inherently weak, the heightened pressure caused by hormonal changes can overwhelm them. This can result in valve dysfunction and blood pooling in the veins, a major contributor to varicose veins.
If varicose veins run in your family, you’re more likely to inherit weaker vein walls or malfunctioning valves. During pregnancy, increased blood volume and hormonal changes can intensify these inherited weaknesses. If these veins are already genetically predisposed to be less efficient, the additional stress of pregnancy can further impair their ability to function properly, leading to the development or worsening of varicose veins.
Twins or Multiples
Expecting two or more babies can dramatically change your body. Carrying more than one child means a larger uterus and greater weight gain. This increases pressure on your veins and slows down blood flow from your legs to your heart. With more blood in your system and higher hormone levels like progesterone, your vein walls tend to relax and expand, making varicose veins more likely.
Extra weight increases the demands on your already overworked circulatory system. It also puts extra pressure on the veins in the lower body, particularly due to the growing uterus, which can weaken vein walls and valves. This makes it more difficult for them to function correctly, leading to blood pooling and the formation of varicose veins.
Excess weight can also hinder blood flow back to the heart, forcing veins to work harder to circulate blood from the lower extremities, further stressing them. Moreover, being overweight often leads to increased inflammation in the body, which can also negatively affect the veins and increase the risk of varicose veins.
Standing for long periods when you’re pregnant can increase your chances of getting varicose veins. Why? Because all that extra weight and pressure on your lower body can weaken your blood vessels. The veins in your legs work against gravity to transport blood back to your heart. This can weaken or damage the vein walls and valves, which are crucial for preventing blood backflow. When these are compromised, blood can pool in the veins, leading to varicose veins.
Can You Treat Varicose Veins While You’re Pregnant?
If you’re dealing with venous issues, exploring varicose veins in pregnancy treatment options can greatly enhance your comfort and health. However, these treatments should be separate from medical intervention. Getting vein procedures during pregnancy is generally advised against. That’s because every medical procedure, even the safest ones, carries some level of risk. When you’re expecting, these risks aren’t just about you; they could affect your baby too.
Pregnancy changes your body in many ways, which can make it react differently to treatments, upping the chance of complications. Some specific treatments for varicose veins, like sclerotherapy or laser procedures, might not be the best idea for your baby. The chemicals or radiofrequency energy used in these treatments, although generally safe under normal circumstances, can be problematic during pregnancy due to the heightened sensitivity and altered physiological state of the expectant mother’s body.
Fortunately, varicose veins that appear during pregnancy often resolve naturally after childbirth. This is because the hormonal changes and increased blood volume that can cause veins to enlarge during pregnancy typically subside post-delivery. This is especially true for varicose veins in the vagina or vulva, which almost always go away after childbirth. However, the severity of your varicose veins might affect whether they linger. In most cases, treatment can wait until after you’ve delivered your baby.
How to Prevent Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
While you can’t prevent all risk factors, especially a family history of varicose veins and hormonal changes, you can still take steps to help prevent or lessen the effects of varicose veins during pregnancy. Here are some safe, at-home varicose veins in pregnancy treatment options.
Low-impact activities like swimming and walking are particularly good during pregnancy because they both promote circulation and muscle strength. Swimming is gentle on joints and veins, while the water resistance helps tone muscles without strain. Walking is also effective exercise because it not only strengthens leg muscles but also helps manage pregnancy weight gain, thus reducing vein pressure. Doing either of these exercises, even for just 30 minutes, can significantly benefit your vein health.
Reduce Leg Fatigue
Got a job or daily routine that keeps you on your feet? Make sure to take little breaks to sit and give your legs a rest. If you can’t sit, just shift around a bit, moving your weight from one leg to the other. It’s also important to wear comfortable, supportive shoes during pregnancy. High heels can limit blood flow in your legs, so it’s preferred to go for flats, shoes with low heels, or sneakers. Elevating your legs with a stool when sitting and using pillows under your feet when lying down can also reduce leg fatigue, improve circulation, and alleviate discomfort and swelling in your veins.
Maximize Your Diet
A vein-healthy diet rich in fiber and low in salt helps prevent swelling and constipation—two things that can aggravate varicose veins. Go for high-fiber foods like whole grains, beans, fruits, and veggies. Add vitamin C-rich foods like oranges and bell peppers for healthy blood vessels, and foods with flavonoids like onions, garlic, and berries to boost circulation. Magnesium, which you can find in almonds and spinach, helps your muscles and eases vein cramps. Picking foods low in salt keeps swelling down. Nuts and seeds have a lot of Vitamin E, which is good for circulation and veins. And don’t forget to eat lean proteins like fish and chicken to support healthy vein tissue.
Home Remedies and Relief Techniques
Home remedies might not be as powerful as medical treatments, but they can give you some natural relief from varicose veins. Try using cold or warm compresses and giving yourself gentle massages to ease the discomfort. Just remember to use a soft touch, avoiding direct pressure on the veins and instead gently stroke upwards towards your heart. Another good trick is wearing compression stockings. They gently squeeze your legs, helping your veins and muscles move blood more effectively.
Successfully Managing Your Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
Varicose veins may be a common concern during pregnancy, but there’s no need to worry—you have plenty of options to manage them effectively. While you might want to steer clear of medical treatments during this time, there’s a whole world of home remedies and smart lifestyle changes that can make a big difference. From keeping active and reducing time spent on your feet to tweaking your diet and embracing the support of compression stockings, these strategies are key to keeping your veins healthy when you need it most.
Remember, most pregnancy-related varicose veins improve post-delivery, and if needed, you can explore more extensive treatments later on. If you’re currently experiencing intense pain or have major concerns about your varicose veins, contact your vein doctor.