What You Need To Know About Varicose Veins During Pregnancy

Any mother will tell you how pregnancy does a number on the human body, from swollen ankles to “baby brain.” Some pregnancy-related afflictions go away on their own after birth (excessive heartburn), others disappear with a little work (excess weight), and some, like stretch marks, are pretty much there to stay. Varicose veins fall somewhere in the spectrum of permanence, depending on a variety of factors, but moms-to-be will be happy to learn even the most stubborn varicose veins can be treated.

What causes varicose veins during pregnancy?

Growing an entire human being is no small feat, and so pregnancy requires a substantial boost in blood production to aid the process. But all that extra blood volume puts pressure on blood vessels, especially veins in the legs, which are already working against gravity to push blood back up to the heart. Additionally, the swelling uterus puts even more pressure on the inferior vena cava (the large vein on the right side of the body) and as progesterone levels rise, blood vessel walls relax. Around week 30 of the pregnancy, all these factors combine to make the perfect conditions for varicose veins.

Do all pregnant women get varicose veins?

No. Much like stretch marks, varicose veins tend to be hereditary, but women carrying twins or higher multiples or women who are overweight before pregnancy are more susceptible. Also, varicose veins tend to get worse with successive pregnancies, especially when pregnancies are close together and veins haven’t had a chance to recover. The good news is that women who don’t have varicose veins before getting pregnant and only get them as a pregnancy symptom are more likely to see them shrink or disappear altogether a few months after giving birth.

Are varicose veins harmful to pregnancy?

While varicose veins sometimes itch or ache, they are unlikely to put a pregnant woman or her unborn baby at risk. However, there is a remote risk that a varicose vein could become inflamed, possibly indicating a blood clot. These particular clots near the skin’s surface (a condition called superficial venous thrombosis) can make the vein feel hard and rope-like, while the area around it becomes red, hot, tender, or painful. This can sometimes cause infection and require antibiotics, so pregnant women with varicose veins should contact their doctor if they show symptoms of superficial venous thrombosis (which is not to be confused with deep venous thrombosis, a serious condition where clots develop in deep veins).

Can pregnancy-related varicose veins be prevented?

There are no guarantees when it comes to preventing varicose veins, but here are some tips that have been shown to help: 

  • Stretch and flex legs whenever possible, and exercise daily

  • Wear comfortable, non-binding clothes (you can make an exception for support pantyhose, which help minimize varicose veins)

  • Keep weight gain within doctor-recommended parameters

  • Sleep on the left side of the body (relieving pressure on the inferior vena cava)

  • Don’t strain (heavy lifting and on the toilet), which adds to vein visibility

  • Eat foods with vitamin C, which produces collagen and elastin to repair and maintain blood vessels

It’s important to keep in mind that varicose veins tend to be more preventable during a woman’s first pregnancy, so these tips may not be as effective in second pregnancies and beyond.

Can pregnant women seek treatment for varicose veins?

Varicose veins are mostly harmless, so along with most cosmetic medical treatments, it’s best to wait until after giving birth. By three to four months post-delivery, most pregnancy-related varicose veins will have disappeared on their own if they’re going to disappear at all, so it’s best to wait until then to start looking into all the options available.

Have questions about the treatment of pregnancy-related varicose veins?

Treatment of varicose veins depends on the patient, severity of the veins’ appearance, and other medical factors. At San Diego Varicose Vein Treatment Center, our Board Certified Cardiologist, Dr. Behzad Taghizadeh, will discuss all the options available, listen to your concerns, and explain a treatment plan in easy-to-understand language. Our patients’ experience is just as important to us as their results, and we promise to take good care of you. If you’re looking for treatment for your varicose veins, give us a call to schedule a consultation today.