Anyone who has given birth can tell you that pregnancy has its ups and downs. This phase of life puts a lot of stress on a woman’s body, leading to discomfort as well as physical, mental, and hormonal changes. All of this bodily turbulence can result in visible changes to the skin. For instance, it’s fairly common for women to develop acne during pregnancy, along with hives and rashes in various places. Another common skin condition triggered or affected by pregnancy are varicose veins. Here we’ll discuss everything you should know about pregnancy and varicose veins.
Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted, bulging veins that typically appear in the legs. They’re usually noticeable not only by their shape but also their dark blue or purple color. The main cause of these enlarged veins has to do with improper blood flow. Veins are the highways that carry blood cells from tissues back to the heart. When veins become restricted or blocked up, blood cells can build up and force the veins to bulge out and contort. As for why these blockages occur, it may have to do with damaged valves, internal pressure from organs against veins, or poor blood flow. Gravity also plays a role here, as blood has to pump upward from your legs to get back to your heart.
Most cases of varicose veins aren’t a serious medical concern and may not even cause any pain or discomfort. However, varicose veins can cause aching, swelling, and cramping, and can also lead to other rare complications like ulcers and blood clots. Many patients, however, simply dislike how varicose veins look, which affects their confidence and mental health. And, as it turns out, those who are pregnant are at higher risk for developing this condition.
One of the many changes that occur during pregnancy is increased blood volume. On top of that, pregnancy also causes decreased blood flow in certain regions. Combining these two changes results in more blood pumping through the veins at a slower rate than normal. As such, like the freeway before a holiday weekend, these veins get congested and can turn into varicose veins.
Changes in blood volume and blood flow only make up part of the connection between pregnancy and varicose veins, though. The hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy can also cause varicose veins to develop. More specifically, an increase in progestin levels can further open up veins, making it easier for blood to back up. Also, pregnant bodies undergo a lot of additional internal pressure, especially near the uterus as the pregnancy develops. As the uterus enlarges, it can put pressure on nearby veins, further restricting blood flow and increasing the likelihood of varicose vein development.
As previously mentioned, most instances of varicose veins are not a cause for alarm. That said, some patients will want to treat them anyway to restore their skin’s former appearance. Some effective varicose veins treatments include compression stockings, which help stimulate leg muscle activity to increase blood flow; laser treatments, which can target and seal veins, letting them fade away over time; sclerotherapy, an injection that closes up varicose veins; catheter-assisted radiofrequency treatments, which employ a catheter heated up by radio waves to seal larger varicose veins shut; vein stripping; ambulatory phlebectomy; and endoscopic varicose vein surgery, which is only necessary in the most severe cases.
Of course, treating varicose veins during pregnancy is a bit more challenging, as certain medications and surgery may carry additional risks. The good news is that most pregnancy-related varicose veins disappear on their own within 3-12 months after the baby has been delivered. If those varicose veins stick around long after you’ve given birth, you might consider seeking varicose vein removal treatments or surgery, like the ones mentioned above.
In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to reduce or prevent varicose veins during pregnancy on your own. These are mostly lifestyle changes, like exercising an appropriate amount during pregnancy, keeping your legs elevated, reducing the amount of sodium in your diet and eating more fiber, drinking plenty of water, and not sitting or standing in one place for too long.