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Navigating Varicose Veins During Pregnancy

About 4 in 10 women will develop varicose veins during pregnancy. Varicose veins are visibly bulging, twisted blood vessels that appear near the skin’s surface. Typically, varicose veins develop in the legs. They may develop as early as the first trimester and may worsen throughout your pregnancy.

While generally harmless to you and your baby, these swollen veins can look concerning and may cause symptoms that affect your day-to-day life. Learning more about what causes varicose veins, how to prevent them and treatment options can help put your mind at ease.

Understanding Varicose Veins During Pregnancy

Many changes happen in the body when you’re pregnant. During pregnancy, you have increased blood volume to help your baby grow and develop. The higher volume of blood increases the pressure in your veins. Additionally, as your baby grows, it also puts extra pressure on blood vessels in your abdomen and pelvis, causing changes in blood flow in your lower body. Blood flow or circulation changes increase your risk of developing varicose veins and spider veins, thin red veins visible under the skin. Higher levels of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy also cause blood vessels to relax. This also leads to valves in the veins not working as well as they should to prevent blood from flowing backward. 

Some women have multiple varicose vein symptoms during pregnancy. Others may develop varicose veins without any other symptoms. 

Common varicose vein symptoms include:

  • Aches, pain or tenderness in your lower legs
  • Changes in skin color 
  • Cramps in your calf muscles, especially at night
  • Feeling of heaviness or tiredness in your legs
  • Itching around the varicose veins
  • Swelling in your ankles and legs
  • Throbbing sensation

Sitting or standing for a long period of time can make symptoms worse. Symptoms may also be more noticeable later in the day after you’ve been up and active for several hours. 

Most varicose veins symptoms are not serious. However, varicose veins can occasionally lead to serious complications, such as a type of blood clot called deep vein thrombosis. Let your healthcare provider know if you notice any of the following:

  • An open sore on or near a varicose vein
  • Bleeding from a varicose vein on your leg
  • Sudden worsening of pain, redness, swelling or warmth in your leg

Read More: How to Get Rid of Varicose Veins

Day-to-Day Effects

Pregnancy causes many changes in your body that are out of your control. These changes may not only affect how you feel about your body emotionally but can also affect how you feel physically. Symptoms of varicose veins may interrupt sleep, making you feel more tired or limiting your activities, which can have an effect on your overall mood and well-being.

Changes in your body during pregnancy happen to support your baby’s growth and development, and most of these changes are temporary. About 3 in 4 women find that pregnancy-related varicose veins shrink significantly or disappear within six months of giving birth. However, varicose veins are less likely to go away with each pregnancy that you have. 

Although many changes during pregnancy are normal, it’s essential to talk to your doctor if emotional or physical changes interrupt your daily life. 

Varicose Vein Prevention Strategies

There are many things you can do to help manage varicose veins or prevent them from developing or worsening. One of the more effective methods is to wear graduated compression stockings during the day. These tight-fitting stockings apply gentle pressure to your legs to decrease swelling and improve blood flow. The pressure is strongest around your ankles and decreases toward the top of your leg. Compression stockings come in different strengths and are sold at medical supply stores. Ask your healthcare provider what strength is best for you before going to the store.

At night, you can help manage varicose veins by sleeping on your left side. This position lowers the amount of pressure on the inferior vena cava, a large vein that carries blood from the lower body to the heart.

Other ways to help prevent or manage varicose veins include: 

  • Avoiding long periods of sitting or standing
  • Drinking plenty of water 
  • Eating a balanced, high-fiber diet
  • Elevating your legs when sitting
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Limiting salt, or sodium, in your diet
  • Wearing athletic or soft shoes or custom orthotics

When and How to Treat Pregnancy-Related Varicose Veins

The best ways to manage varicose veins during pregnancy are to live a healthy lifestyle and use prevention strategies, such as compression stockings, throughout pregnancy. Because varicose veins are typically harmless and may resolve on their own after you give birth, other treatments are not recommended during pregnancy.

Once your baby arrives, it’s understandable to want your body to return to pre-pregnancy shape as soon as possible. However, it takes time for your body to readjust after pregnancy. Be kind to yourself, continue to follow a healthy lifestyle and give your body time to heal and your hormones time to readjust.

If pregnancy-related varicose veins don’t shrink or disappear within about six months postpartum, talk with your doctor. There are several nonsurgical and surgical treatment options available. However, it’s best to wait at least three to six months after giving birth before starting treatment for varicose veins.

Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns or questions about your varicose veins or symptoms. They can answer your questions and offer help if emotional or physical symptoms are interfering with your usual routine or quality of life.

Read More: Your Vein Treatment Timeline: What to Expect

Caring for Your Veins, Caring for Your Baby

Your veins work harder while you’re pregnant to support both you and your baby’s growth. Being proactive about managing or preventing varicose veins does more than stop unsightly veins from developing. Varicose vein prevention strategies also help you improve your overall vein health during pregnancy. Whether you develop varicose veins during pregnancy or not, taking care of your vein health can help you and your growing baby avoid complications and stay healthy.

If you worry about varicose veins and want to learn more about treatment options, request a consultation with a vein specialist at Charlotte Radiology Vein Centers. 

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