Approximately 1 in 5 people will develop varicose veins at some point in their life. Varicose veins, those ropy, blue- or purple-colored veins often found on the legs, are a sign that the circulatory system is not effectively pumping and clearing blood from the extremities. While many people develop varicose veins during older age, they are also common during pregnancy. Learning about the association between varicose veins and pregnancy can help you treat these unsightly veins.
The Link Between Varicose Veins and Pregnancy
For many women, the first time they develop varicose veins is during pregnancy. So why are varicose veins and pregnancy related? The answer is twofold: one aspect is related to simple physics, while the other is hormonal.
The first reason that varicose veins and pregnancy co-occur is due to changes in the pressure placed on your circulatory system during pregnancy. Your veins are responsible for delivering deoxygenated blood from your body’s tissues back to the heart. This means that veins have to work against gravity, pushing blood from the feet and legs back up to the chest. During pregnancy, your uterus grows larger and places greater pressure on the inferior vena cava, a large vein that traverses the right side of your body. As the pressure increases, your veins may begin to bulge under the pressure. This is why so many pregnant women develop varicose veins in the leg and groin area.
The second reason for the link between varicose veins and pregnancy is hormonal. Pregnancy is associated with a change in levels of hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. In particular, progesterone levels steadily increase over the course of your pregnancy. Progesterone can lead to a weakening of vein walls. This makes them more susceptible to bulging and allowing blood to pool, leading to the formation of varicose veins.
Pregnant women are also at higher risk of another form of varicose veins: hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are simply varicose veins that occur in the rectal area. These uncomfortable veins are treatable with the help of a vein doctor.
Prevention of Varicose Veins Related to Pregnancy
The good news is that pregnancy-related varicose veins are not typically permanent. Once the pressure on your veins goes down after birth and your progesterone levels return to normal, the varicose veins will likely disappear. In the meantime, however, there are a few things you can do to prevent varicose veins during your pregnancy:
- Exercise every day, even if it is just walking around your neighborhood.
- Stay within the weight range recommended by your doctor.
- Elevate your legs when sitting or lying down.
- Do not stand for long periods of time.
- Sleep on your left side to alleviate pressure on your inferior vena cava.
- Wear compression garments to improve blood flow in your legs.