Pregnant women have to deal with a variety of uncomfortable ailments in each stage of their pregnancies. Varicose veins, while relatively harmless, are very uncomfortable and potentially painful. These are typically hereditary, so they’re not always preventable. This means finding ways to cope is paramount to increasing your comfort levels during your pregnancy. Learn more about what exactly varicose veins are, what causes them, how you can work to prevent them, and how you can treat them if you’ve already got them.
What they are
Varicose veins are regular veins that are twisted or enlarged. All the veins in your body have the potential to become varicosed, but for pregnant women, it’s typical to find varicose veins in the legs and feet. Many pregnant women must also deal with hemorrhoids, which are actually a common form of varicose veins.
Why they happen
Many factors contribute to varicose veins during pregnancy, and every woman is different. There’s no set time for varicose veins to form during pregnancy, but they typically worsen as the baby grows. Here are some of the leading causes of varicose veins during pregnancy.
Changes in blood
When you become pregnant, your body experiences an increase in blood volume to provide for both yourself and the fetus. The volume of blood in your body increases by about 50 percent. This is necessary to provide support for your uterus, but with all that extra blood circulating through your body, it also puts your body at risk for developing varicose veins. The blood can also pool in your legs and feet—this is a common cause of foot swelling during pregnancy.
Weight gain during pregnancy is inevitable and healthy. Most doctors recommend gaining between 25 and 35 pounds throughout the course of a full-term pregnancy, although every woman is different. However, excessive weight gain—or being overweight prior to pregnancy—greatly increase the risks of developing varicose veins. Extra weight contributes to varicose veins because it puts even more strain on your circulatory system. Monitor your weight, and bring up any concerns about the amount of weight you gain or the rate at which you gain it with your doctor.
Pressure from uterus
When you’re pregnant, your organs shift and move to create space for your uterus. When your uterus expands to provide room for the fetus, it can often press on your inferior vena cava vein. This is the large vein that carries blood from your feet and legs back to your heart. This pressure, if it were to result in varicose veins, would most likely develop into vulvar varicose veins. These are very rare in women who have never been pregnant, but the risk of developing them increases with every pregnancy.
These are one of the main causes of varicose veins during pregnancy. When you become pregnant, your body produces more progesterone. This hormone causes your body to relax and release tension, which also relaxes the walls of your veins. This is necessary for a safe delivery, so there’s a good reason for the heightened hormones, but it can also lead to vein swelling and twisting as well as varicose veins.
If you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, and you’re worried about developing varicose veins, it may be helpful to talk to the women in your family about their pregnancy experiences. If you have a family history of varicose veins, you’re at a higher risk of getting them, too. This is especially true if your mother or maternal grandmother had them during her pregnancy. If you’re concerned about your risk factors or you know your family has a history of painful pregnancy-triggered varicose veins, discuss this with your doctor to come up with a treatment and management plan before they fully set in.
How to prevent them and reduce effects
Because varicose veins are often hereditary, they’re not entirely preventable. So many different causes and factors go into their development, so completely preventing them is nearly impossible. Furthermore, the way they affect each woman is distinct. For many women, they’re a purely cosmetic complaint, accompanied by little to no discomfort or pain. For others, they’re a painful and uncomfortable inconvenience that can develop into deep vein thrombosis—a much more serious condition.
Thankfully, there are some ways to lower your risks and even prevent already developed varicose veins from worsening. Here are some ways to lower your risks of development and progression:
- Adjust your position: Unfortunately, both sitting and standing for long periods can contribute to the development of varicose veins. To lower your risks while you’re pregnant, adjust how you’re sitting or standing and get moving at least once every hour. Go for a short walk if you’ve been sitting for a long time, or take a load off if you’ve been standing all day.
- Keep your weight in check: Don’t be afraid of weight gain during your pregnancy—it’s totally normal and healthy to gain weight. Just make sure to pay attention to how much weight you’re putting on and to communicate this to your doctor. Gaining too much weight can cause excess strain on your circulatory system and result in varicose veins.
- Don’t cross your legs: Crossing your legs while you sit might be comfortable, but it’s cutting off circulation and preventing your blood from moving freely from your feet and legs and back to your heart. Uncrossing your legs and putting up your feet can help. Keeping your feet above your heart whenever you can helps your body drain blood out of your legs and back to your heart.
- Change up how you sleep: Getting enough sleep should be a top priority so that you and your body have enough energy to grow, but sleeping on your back or stomach during pregnancy isn’t ideal. Sleeping on your left side, however, reduces the amount of pressure your uterus places on your inferior vena cava, lowering your risk of developing varicose veins and, in particular, vulvar varicose veins.
- Help support your body: Made to help pregnant women’s bodies circulate blood at the proper pace, maternity compression pantyhose can also help prevent the development or worsening of varicose veins. Compression gear can look just like normal tights or pantyhose, but it applies pressure on the areas most commonly affected by varicose veins.