What are Varicose Veins?
Though usually not considered a serious medical issue, moms-to-be are not thrilled to see these babies pop out along with their hormonal acne. They are swollen or enlarged blood vessels that become visible through the skin as purplish lumpy, twisting veins – not a fantastic look! This usually happens in the legs as standing and walking puts more pressure on the lower half of the body.
Your blood volume increases during pregnancy as you gain weight, this puts even more demands on the blood vessels in your legs which are working hard to pump blood back up to your heart. Also, your baby weight is putting pressure on the blood vessels around your pelvis. As many as 40% of women get some level of vein enlargement during their pregnancies. Here’s a not so fun fact, a hemorrhoid is really a varicose vein of the rectal area, which occurs from pressure causing the veins in that area to bulge. Another reason to stay hydrated and eat your fiber to avoid constipation and the straining and pushing that often goes along with trying to have a BM, especially during pregnancy.
Tips for Preventing Varicose Veins When Pregnant
- Improve your circulation by elevating your legs whenever possible.
- Try not to cross your legs when sitting because any bending at the knees will impede and restrict blood flow back to the heart, which causes the pressure to build up.
- Keep exercising. Walking or swimming are great for circulation and keeping muscles strong which also helps the blood to return to heart more efficiently.
- Watch your weight. Keep your pregnancy weight gain to that recommended by your practitioner, usually 25 to 35 pounds. Any extra pounds just make your circulatory system work harder.
- Sleep on your left side. Recommend as it gives nutrient-packed blood an easier route from your heart to the placenta to nourish your baby.
- Don’t strain. Either by too much heavy lifting or in the bathroom…avoid constipation.
- Eat a nutritious diet. Whole body health with plenty of vitamin C helps your circulatory system.
Can They Hurt?
These enlarged veins can sometimes be painful, here are the most common symptoms:
- Color changes in the skin – dark blue or purple visible veins or blotches.
- Sensations in the legs– a heavy feeling, burning, itching or aching.
- Sores or rashes on the legs –Severe varicose veins may eventually produce long-term mild swelling and poor circulation that can result in serious skin and tissue problems like ulcers and sores that do not heal. Stasis dermatitis or varicose eczema, is a kind of eczema that can occur in people who have varicose veins.
Sounds lovely, right? These are thin web-like vein clusters visible just under the skin. A mini form of varicose veins, they appear red or blue and often occur at the back of the knee or the inner thigh but can appear elsewhere. A definite pregnancy link, but common in many people as they age. They are not painful.
Varicose veins may have an inherited component, but these factors increase pressure on your vascular system:
- Being overweight
- Older age– As we get older, those one-way valves in our veins that keep blood from flowing backward get weaker. The pressure from the increased amount of blood within the vein build ups, resulting in the twisted, bulging veins known as varicose veins.
- Being female– The hormones estrogen and progesterone cause the muscles that control the movement of blood in your veins to relax. This is why taking oral contraceptive pills or hormone replacement may add a very small varicose vein risk.
- Being sedentary– Strong leg muscles help send blood back to the heart and prevent the weakening of the vein walls.
- Smoking– Studies show that the carbon monoxide and tar present in cigarette smoke have damaging effects to the venous system. Carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen found in the blood.
- Pregnancy–see above.
Possible Treatments for Varicose Veins
Put your feet up– Elevate your legs above your heart several times a day for 15 minutes. When sitting or standing for long periods of time do ankle rotations and flex your knees to help your circulation.
Try compression stockings– These are elastic stockings that squeeze the veins and prevent blood from pooling.
Sclerotherapy–This is a procedure in which saline or a chemical solution is injected into the veins so they no longer carry blood. It is used for spider veins and smaller varicose veins.
Thermal ablation–Lasers or radiofrequency energy may be used to treat varicose veins. A tiny fiber is inserted into a varicose vein through a catheter. The laser or radiofrequency energy is used to deliver heat that destroys the wall of the varicose vein.
Vein stripping–Surgery to remove varicose veins.
Microphlebectomy–This is minimally invasive procedure performed to remove varicose veins through small, slit-like incisions in your skin.
Alert Your Healthcare Provider
Pregnant or not, let your practitioner know if you have any signs of varicose veins. There is an association between varicose veins and the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots in the legs, which is a serious condition.