About one in three adults in the United States has varicose veins, or the knotted, purplish leg veins that swell, twist, and bulge against the skin. Though anyone can develop these distorted viscosities, you’re more likely to get them if you’re female, older, overweight, or spend a lot of time standing or sitting.
Another major risk factor for varicose veins? Pregnancy.
Read on as our seasoned team of board-certified experts at Vascular Vein Centers discusses the link between pregnancy-related body changes and varicose veins, explains how you can lower your risk of developing them, and touches on post-pregnancy treatment solutions.
A short tutorial on varicose vein development
Your arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart and lungs to your organs, body tissues, and extremities. Once the oxygen has been delivered, your veins transport the deoxygenated blood back to your heart and lungs to be resupplied for the next trip around your body.
Your veins contain a series of one-way valves designed to keep blood flow moving efficiently and in the right direction. Vein valves are under the greatest amount of pressure in your legs, as they work against gravity to keep your blood flowing normally.
Sometimes, this extra pressure can cause leg vein valves to weaken. As blood pools up behind the dysfunctional valves, it places increased pressure on the surrounding vessel wall. Over time, these abnormal pressure points make the affected area of the vein swell and distort — or become varicose.
How pregnancy sets the stage for varicose veins
Varicose veins are more likely to develop under certain circumstances. For example, older age is associated with a greater varicose vein risk simply because vein valves tend to become weaker as they (and you) get older.
Pregnancy — particularly in the second and third trimesters — sets the stage for varicose vein formation in several ways. Though not every expectant mother gets varicose veins, up to half of pregnant women experience enlarged leg veins because of three key body changes:
An increased production of the pregnancy hormones progesterone and relaxin help relax your connective tissues, so your belly can expand to accommodate your growing baby.
Unfortunately, relaxin also relaxes blood vessel walls, and progesterone weakens vein valve function. These actions make it harder for your blood to flow efficiently from your legs to your heart, increasing your varicose vein risk.
Expanded blood volume
Your blood volume increases by as much as 20% during pregnancy to sustain both you and your developing fetus. Your vascular network doesn’t expand to support this extra volume, however; instead, your veins simply must work harder (and under more pressure).
Large vein (IVC) strain
As you reach the end of your second trimester, the combination of your growing fetus and expanding uterus may begin to put pressure on the inferior vena cava (IVC). As the largest vein in your body, your IVC carries blood from your legs back to your heart. Its constraint can slow lower extremity circulation and make varicose leg veins more likely.
Lower your varicose vein risk during pregnancy
Although there’s no way to eliminate your varicose vein risk during pregnancy, there are ways to minimize the likelihood of their appearance — and steps you can take to reduce the severity of vein problems that emerge as your pregnancy progresses. We recommend that you:
- Try not to sit or stand still for long periods
- Elevate your legs when you can while you’re sitting
- Keep your legs uncrossed when you’re seated
- Ease IVC pressure by sleeping on your left side
- Stay physically activity to improve leg circulation
- Maintain a low-sodium, heart-healthy diet
- Wear maternity hose or compression stockings
Custom compression socks and devices can be particularly beneficial if you have other major risk factors for varicose veins, such as family or personal history, or an occupation that requires you to stand for long stretches.
Learn about postpartum vein treatment options
If you do develop varicose veins while you’re expecting, we have some good news — many pregnancy-instigated varicose veins shrink and fade away within a few months of childbirth. Staying active and avoiding long periods of sitting or standing can help encourage this natural resolution.
Vein problems tend to worsen with subsequent pregnancies, however, and you may find that more, worsening, or persistent varicose veins after multiple pregnancies. In such cases, our team offers a complete range of minimally invasive solutions, including:
- Standard sclerotherapy vein removal
- Endovenous laser therapy (EVLT)
- Varithena® microfoam vein removal
- VenaSeal™ nonthermal vein removal
- Beneficial lifestyle recommendations
- Prescription compression therapy
To learn more about the post-pregnancy varicose vein solutions at Vascular Vein Centers, call or click online to schedule a visit at your nearest office. We offer appointments at our six Central Florida locations in College Park of Orlando, Waterford Lakes of East Orlando, Kissimmee, Davenport/Haines City, Lake Mary, and The Villages, Florida.