Up to 50 percent of American women may be affected by varicose veins at some point in their lives, according to the American College of Phlebology. Considering that varicose veins are a potential side effect of pregnancy, it’s no wonder many pregnant women commonly experience this medical issue. However, if you already have varicose veins, pregnancy can irritate and enlarge them even further.
If you’re worried about how varicose veins might affect you or a loved one during their pregnancy, keep reading below to find out more.
To help understand how varicose veins affect pregnancy, it’s important to define exactly what varicose veins are. Varicose veins are twisted, swollen veins that primarily occur in the legs. Veins have one-way valves that control the direction of blood flow to the heart, so, when too much pressure is placed on veins, these valves can weaken and cause a back up in blood flow. This causes them to swell and enlarge, thus creating varicose veins.
Women can develop vulvar varicosities due to the changes in the body's blood flow, increased blood flow in the pelvic region, and decreased blood flow from the lower extremities to the heart. As an example, hemorrhoids, a common side effect of pregnancy, are varicose veins in the rectum.
It’s important to note that every woman's experience with varicose veins is different. Some women may feel pain with their varicose veins, and some women may not even know they have them. This difference in experience is especially true for any woman who is pregnant.
Varicose veins affect about 10 to 20 percent of pregnant women. The good news is that they are usually harmless and shrink back down to normal size after pregnancy. There are several reasons why varicose veins occur during pregnancy: increased blood volume, the weight of the growing baby pressing on blood vessels in the pelvis, and hormone changes slowing blood flow and impacting smaller veins in the pelvis and upper legs.
The third trimester is the most common time period for varicose veins to develop since that is the time that blood flow is the most affected. In addition, hemorrhoids, a common form of varicose veins for pregnant women, increase with straining or pushing due to constipation and giving birth.
If you notice that you have varicose veins during your pregnancy, speak with your doctor. This is important, as sometimes varicose veins are a sign of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), otherwise known as blood clots. These can be harmful to you and your baby during the pregnancy, so it’s important to discuss any risks with your provider.
If you’re a pregnant woman experiencing varicose veins, there are a few things you can do to help promote healthy circulation for your veins.
- Stay away from wearing high heels, as these can interrupt healthy circulation for your feet and calves.
- Don’t cross your legs while sitting.
- Sleep on your left side to help relieve pressure on certain areas that commonly experience varicose veins.
- Drink lots of water.
- Eat fiber if you are having issues with constipation.
- If you’re prone to sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time, make sure to switch it up and take breaks.
- Exercise regularly.
- Wear specific maternity support hosiery that stimulates blood flow in your legs.
If you or someone you love are experiencing varicose veins during pregnancy, the experts at Georgia Vascular Institute are here to help. Click here to schedule an appointment if you still have concerns or questions about how pregnancy affects varicose veins?.