Are you expecting a new bundle of joy in your family? And if yes, are you also wondering why your body suddenly looks like a state road map or why you see your grandmother’s legs every time you look in the mirror?
Don’t worry, soon-to-be moms, you’re not alone!
What you’re most likely suffering is called Varicose Veins. These swollen, enlarged, rope-like veins can be seen under the skin and mainly affect your legs, feet, or thighs. If you’re lucky, you will only develop Spider Veins, also called Telangiectasias. These star-like groups of blood vessels are smaller, and they usually pose a smaller risk to your health than varicose veins.
So, what’s happening?
Varicose and spider veins develop in your legs for various reasons, but in all cases they are related to non-functioning vein valves. You need your vein valves healthy because they allow blood to flow from the legs toward the heart against gravity, preventing venous reflux (reverse flow). If the valves are damaged or the vein wall is too weak, the blood pools in the legs, which results in formation of varicose veins or their enlargement (again, for more info on varicose veins, see here).
Is this common?? Absolutely. Pregnancy itself is one of the major risk factors for varicose veins. And they don’t only have to appear in your legs, but also in your vulva and as hemorrhoids (swollen and inflamed veins). Yes ladies, as if I could hear you say ‘I did not sign up for this’. Well, like it or not, your future little sweetheart will make those nine months as difficult as possible for you.
What is it about pregnancy that causes these veins?
Pregnancy is a huge accelerating factor in the formation of varicose veins, which means that they will most likely form during pregnancy or pre-child birth, or if you already had them before becoming pregnant, your condition will probably get worse. There are several reasons for this, all related to the changes your body is going through during pregnancy:
- The blood volume in the body increases – this on its own can cause the veins to enlarge, preventing the vein valves from working properly.
- The growing uterus puts pressure on the veins – the burgeoning uterus is a great thing for your baby, but not for your pelvic blood vessels and the body’s big vein – the inferior vena cava – that are under constant pressure. This obviously becomes worse as the pregnancy progresses and the fetus grows.
- Levels of progesterone increase – this hormone that naturally increases during pregnancy also dilates the veins and causes the blood to pool.
How bad can this get?
If you have a genetic predisposition to varicose veins, the easiest way to avoid them during pregnancy is to treat them before you actually get pregnant. I assume for most of you who are reading this article this advice is coming a little too late. In that case, my recommendation is for you to see a specialist the first time you experience varicose veins during pregnancy. Remember that pregnancy is not the only factor here, and that varicose veins can also be caused by other, more serious underlying conditions.
Plus, a medical specialist can also suggest a treatment that would be most suitable for you after you give birth. Varicose veins don’t get better on their own, and will usually get worse over time, sometimes developing into such dangerous conditions as leg ulcers.
For some of you, varicose veins will only feel uncomfortable during pregnancy. But beware that if your condition worsens, and chances are it will, varicose veins can bleed, cause a blot clot, severe swelling in the ankles and calves, skin discoloration, and other problems that need the attention of a medical specialist.
What should I do now?
The best thing to start is to have an ultrasound performed to see the underlying veins, how extensive the problem is, and what effect exactly pregnancy has on your veins. This is a painless, non-invasive examination, and it can be done when you are pregnant as there are absolutely no risk factors. No preparation is necessary, and you will either comfortably lie in a chair or stand in an upright position (this is to assess the blood flow direction). You really needn’t fear this procedure at all, most facials get more painful than this!
You will need to find a medical specialist – phlebologist, dermatologist or vascular surgeon – who will perform a physical examination, using various technological devices. Just call and schedule a free consultation. These offices are friendly and want to help.
How do I treat varicose veins after the pregnancy?
Thanks to modern technology, treating these unsightly veins has become easier and more effective. New procedures don’t require surgery, and can be covered by insurance. Read more about “Vein Treatment Overview”,
- Read more about the modern process for vein treatment: Vein Treatment Overview
Can I prevent varicose veins during pregnancy?
There is not much you can do during the actual pregnancy as you are limited on the medication you can take and the procedures you can undergo. There are still a few tips, though, that might not necessarily prevent the formation of varicose veins, but at least can help to reduce the bothersome symptoms:
Elevate your legs as much as you can!
Putting your legs above your heart as many times a day as possible, for at least 15 minutes at a time, will help the circulation and make it easier for the heart to pump the blood from your legs to the heart.
Sleep on your left side!
The inferior vena cava, the big vein in the pelvic area, is located on your right side of the body. If you lie on your left side, you won’t put too much pressure on the vein and the blood will be able to return back on your right side.
Try not to gain much weight!
I know that pregnancy is the only time us women don’t have to feel guilty about overeating, but keep in mind that too much weight gain can cause varicose veins.
Of course nobody wants you to run marathons and break world records when you are pregnant. But regular moderate exercise is one of the best ways to increase blood circulation.
Constipation can cause hemorrhoids and worsen varicose veins, so try to prevent it by drinking lots of water and eating high fiber foods.
Wear compression stockings!
Compression stockings will help redirect blood back to the heart, as well as reduce the swelling and the feeling of heavy legs.