Although you expect a lot of changes during pregnancy, problems with your veins may not be on your radar. But the fact is that pregnancy increases your risk for varicose veins. These unsightly and often painful veins often appear for the first time during pregnancy. If you already have vein problems, they typically worsen while you’re pregnant.
Here at Vein Health Clinics, we help pregnant women learn how to lower their risk for vein problems and provide customized care when varicose veins cause discomfort. Our goal is to help you thrive and stay healthy, so here’s a rundown on the reasons pregnancy leads to varicose veins and other vein problems.
How varicose veins develop
The veins in your legs carry blood back toward your heart, fighting against gravity and upper body pressure to keep blood moving in the right direction. Normal blood flow is maintained through two key mechanisms. First, your body relies on natural pressure from your leg muscles. Every time you move and muscle contract, they push against the veins and propel blood upward.
Meanwhile, one-way valves inside the veins open to let blood flow up your legs, then close to stop it from going back down. When the valves weaken or stop working properly, blood flows backward and accumulates in the vein. That’s when you develop enlarged, gnarled varicose veins.
Why pregnancy causes varicose veins
Your body undergoes some amazing changes to ensure your baby is well-nourished and healthy throughout your pregnancy. Here’s what happens in your blood vessels that’s vital for your baby, but can lead to varicose veins:
Blood volume increases
The total amount of blood circulating through your body progressively increases as your baby grows. Blood plasma increases 40-50%, while red blood cell mass gets a boost of 20-30%. The result is that your veins must transport significantly more blood.
Pregnancy weight adds pressure
As your baby grows, the increasing weight puts pressure on the inferior vena cava, a large vein that picks up blood from your lower body and takes it the rest of the way to your heart. Pressure on the inferior vena cava contributes to distended leg veins.
Hormones affect the valves
High levels of progesterone are needed to maintain a healthy pregnancy. However, progesterone also weakens valves and relaxes the walls in your veins.
The cumulative effect of these three pregnancy changes means:
- Blood is more likely to flow backward due to relaxed valves
- Veins will expand more than normal due to weakened and distended vein walls
- Increased blood volume magnifies the problem
- Your chances of developing varicose veins go through the ceiling
If you didn’t have varicose veins before your pregnancy, the problem may gradually go away on its own after delivery. In the meantime, varicose veins can become painful, itchy, and begin to bleed under the skin.
Vein problems during pregnancy aren’t limited to varicose veins
Women face a higher risk of two other vein problems when they’re pregnant:
Chronic venous insufficiency
Chronic venous insufficiency develops when blood pools in leg veins, usually due to weak valves or because a blood clot partially blocks the vein. While venous insufficiency may lead to varicose veins, it’s known for other serious problems, such as swollen lower legs, itchy skin, and venous stasis ulcers. Venous stasis ulcers typically appear on your lower leg or ankle, turning into sores that may bleed and are slow to heal.
From the day you become pregnant, your body prepares to stop blood loss during delivery. Throughout your pregnancy, blood levels of clotting factors increase, some by about 50%. Although blood clots are rare, you should be aware that deep vein thrombosis (DVT) most often occurs in the first trimester and the first six weeks after delivery.
If you develop a skin sore or rash, swelling or pain in one leg, or your varicose veins become uncomfortable, call Vein Health Clinics or use the online booking feature to schedule an appointment.