Commentary by Jeffery P. Schoonover, M.D.
Along with the joys of pregnancy can come not so joyful varicose veins. There are several causes of varicose veins during pregnancy. Heredity is a major contributing factor. Hormone levels rise during pregnancy causing the walls of the veins to relax and result in increased risk. During pregnancy, the blood volume doubles to supply both the mother and her fetus. This increased volume can make the veins bulge. As the uterus grows, it puts pressure on a large vein (inferior vena cava) on the right side of the body, which increases pressure in the leg veins. Being overweight, carrying multiples and standing for long periods of time make it more likely to develop varicose veins. Unfortunately, varicose veins tend to get worse with each successive pregnancy and age.
As a reminder, varicose veins develop when the valves that keep blood flowing out of the legs and back to the heart become damaged. This can cause blood to pool in your legs, with bulging veins and pain. Associated symptoms include leg aching, swelling, itching, heaviness, restlessness and fatigue.
Here are some things you can do to improve your leg health while pregnant:
- Keep your weight within the recommended range for your stage of pregnancy.
- Exercise daily, including walking.
- Elevate your feet and legs whenever possible.
- Don’t sit or stand for long periods without taking a break.
- Don’t wear clothing that is binding around the tops of your legs, waist or ankles.
- Wear medical grade compression stockings.
Varicose and spider veins that develop during pregnancy may improve within three to six months after the baby arrives. In some cases, untreated veins do not improve and remain after delivery. That is when it is time to consult with a physician that specializes in venous medicine.