Why Varicose Veins Appear during Pregnancy and Solutions to Minimize Them
Adults from around the world experience varicose veins in droves each year, with millions citing the appearance of veins beneath the skin or pain and discomfort in the legs due to a vein issue. However, the cause of varicose veins is not the same for each individual. Varicose veins are defined as twisted, bulging veins that appear to be dark blue or purple and are visible through the skin, most often appearing in the lower legs. Over time, anyone can experience varicose veins due to the natural aging process, but women who are pregnant may experience weakened veins more so than any other subset of adult patients.
Pregnancy causes a host of physical changes, from differences in skin texture and appearance, changes to body shape, and weight gain, but varicose veins are often an unexpected addition. Upwards of one-third of pregnant women will encounter varicose veins in addition to these more common changes. While most pregnant women do not have severe symptoms with varicose veins more than the cosmetic frustration, others may have swollen legs, itchiness at the site of the varicose veins, or pain when walking or standing. Understanding why weakened veins affect pregnant women is necessary in the fight against varicose veins both during and after pregnancy.
Why Varicose Veins Occur
Varicose veins can appear in anyone, regardless of weight, lifestyle, or age, but pregnant women experience vein issues for specific reasons. Eddie Chaloner, a vein specialist with Radiance Vein Clinic in the UK, explains that all varicose veins are correlated to leaky valves in the vein system of the human body. Veins are designed to work as channels to move blood through the leg and back up to the heart freely, but over time, gravity makes circulation of the blood more strained. In pregnant women, poor circulation takes place when the vein valves fail due to the size of the uterus in later stages of pregnancy. This causes swelling, bulging and twisting of the veins and the appearance of varicose veins beneath the skin due to increased pressure placed on the legs.
Varicose veins may also be linked to changes in hormones flowing through the body during pregnancy. Chaloner states that the hormones produced during pregnancy are intended to relax a woman’s ligaments and tissues in preparation for giving birth. However, the increased hormone level has a direct impact on the veins as well. When the vein wall muscles relax, the veins are enlarged which may lead to varicose veins later in the pregnancy. While there is no quick fix for varicose veins once they occur, there are steps pregnant women can take to help minimize the potential for varicose veins early on during a pregnancy.
Reducing the Effects of Varicose Veins
One of the best steps women can take to help avoid experiencing varicose veins throughout a pregnancy and after giving birth is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This means getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day, whether that is walking, jogging, or doing another cardio or low-intensity workout. Living a healthy lifestyle also means eating a well-rounded diet that includes sufficient amounts of vitamins and other nutrients. Exercising and eating well helps keep excess weight off which ultimately puts less pressure on the legs where varicose veins most often occur.
In addition to living a healthy life each day, pregnant women may reduce the discomfort of varicose veins by paying close attention to how long they are on their feet both at work and at home. Standing for extended periods of time puts added pressure on the veins, and that pressure may cause the vein walls to weaken. Plan breaks during the day to give the feet and legs some rest, or be cognizant of shifting positions if a full sitting break cannot be taken. Elevation of the legs after a long day of standing or walking is also helpful in reducing the symptoms of varicose veins, as this helps with blood circulation back to the heart.
When varicose veins cause ongoing pain, swelling, or another discomfort, pregnant women should consider speaking with a vein specialist or their primary care doctor to find the right solution. In some cases, the use of compression stockings throughout the day may relieve the varicose veins of pain by helping improve blood flow while they are worn. Other exercises or at-home remedies may also be suggested if conventional methods of reducing varicose veins are not successful. Minimally invasive surgery is an option in correcting varicose veins when no other alternatives offer viable relief.
Pregnant women are more susceptible to experiencing varicose veins than other adults, but the remedies for reducing vein issues and their severity remains the same. A healthy lifestyle that includes daily physical activity, taking breaks for standing or walking, and consulting with a vein specialist are the most appropriate solutions to varicose veins no matter when they occur.