Up to 35% of adults in the United States have varicose veins, or bulging, purplish leg veins that appear twisted, knotted, and swollen just beneath the surface of the skin. Anyone can develop varicose veins, but you’re more likely to get them if you’re older, female, overweight, or spend a lot of time on your feet.
Another significant risk factor for varicose veins? Pregnancy.
Here at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy, our skilled and board-certified general surgeon in Glendale, Arizona, Dr. Johnny L. Serrano, and our skilled team offer several minimally invasive varicose vein removal solutions.
Read on to explore the connection between pregnancy and varicose veins, find out what you can do to reduce your risk of developing them as your pregnancy progresses, and learn about effective postpartum treatment options.
How varicose veins develop
Your veins carry deoxygenated blood from your body back to your heart and lungs, where it picks up fresh oxygen and nutrients and heads back out your body through your arteries. This ongoing process has innumerable moving parts that make it possible and keep it streamlined.
Varicose veins develop when a seemingly insignificant part of the circulatory process — the one-way valves that keep blood flowing through your veins efficiently and in the right direction — become weak, damaged, or dysfunctional.
When blood backs up behind these problematic valves, it puts pressure on the surrounding vessel wall that can, over time, cause it to swell, distort, and twist — or become varicose.
Pregnancy and varicose veins
Dysfunctional vein valves are part of a common health condition called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). CVI can develop for many different reasons, ranging from structural damage caused by smoking or extra body weight to age-related degenerative changes.
For many women, pregnancy — particularly in its later trimesters — effectively sets the stage for the development of CVI and varicose veins. While not everyone gets varicose veins during pregnancy, as many as 1 in 2 pregnant people experience abnormal enlargement of leg veins. This is due to:
Increased blood flow
During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by about 20% to sustain your needs as well as those of your growing fetus. Given that your vascular system doesn’t expand to support this increased flow, however, your veins end up working harder — and under more pressure — to handle it.
Pregnancy also causes an increased production of progesterone and relaxin hormones, both of which help relax connective tissues in the pelvis so your belly can expand. Unfortunately, they also relax blood vessel walls and decrease vein valve function, making it harder for your blood to flow from your lower extremities back to your heart.
Large vein pressure
Toward the end of the second trimester, your growing fetus and expanding uterus can begin to put pressure on your inferior vena cava (IVC). When this large vein is constrained, it slows the blood flow coming from your lower body (feet, legs, pelvis, and abdomen) back to your heart.
Reduce your varicose vein risk
While there’s no way to fully eliminate your varicose vein risk during pregnancy, you can take steps to reduce your chances of developing them or encourage emerging vein problems to be less severe. We recommend that you:
- Avoid long stretches of sitting or standing still
- Sleep on your left side take pressure off the vena cava
- Keep your legs elevated when you’re seated
- Don’t cross your legs when you’re sitting down
- Get plenty of physical activity to improve leg circulation
- Eat a heart-healthy diet that’s low in sodium
- Wear maternity hose or compression stockings
Compression stockings can be especially helpful if you have multiple risk factors for varicose veins, such as family history, excess body weight not related to your pregnancy, or a job that requires you to stand for long stretches.
Postpartum vein treatments
Now for some good news: Pregnancy-related varicose veins often shrink and fade from view within 6-12 weeks of childbirth. The key is to support optimal circulation by staying active and avoiding long periods of sitting or standing.
If you go through multiple pregnancies, however, your varicose veins may get worse each time — and ultimately, they may stick around for good. In such cases, Dr. Serrano offers a full scope of treatment solutions, including:
- Specific lifestyle modifications
- Prescription compression therapy
- Chemical ablation vein removal
- Sclerotherapy vein removal
- Radiofrequency ablation vein removal
He also offers minimally invasive vein removal surgery (phlebectomy). The solution that’s best for you depends on the size, severity, and location of your problematic vein.
To learn more about the varicose vein solutions at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy, call 623-321-5663 today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Serrano, your board-certified general surgeon in Glendale, Arizona, any time.