Pregnancy and Varicose Veins

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One unwelcome surprise during pregnancy is the appearance of varicose veins.  These atypical blood vessels are sometimes more than a cosmetic annoyance, particularly to a woman pregnant for the first time.  Understanding why they occur and how to treat them can help minimize stress during a pregnancy.

The Link Between Varicose Vessels and Pregnancy

As many as 55 percent of women and 45 percent of men in the United States suffer from vein problems.  When it comes to varicose vessels, most people associate them with aging, Womenshealth.gov reports.  However, one of the risk factors for developing these atypical veins is pregnancy.  The risk is even higher for a pregnant woman with a family history of vein problems.  In women who already have varicose vessels, becoming pregnant can cause the disorder to worsen.

An affected vein typically is enlarged and appears blue, red, or flesh-toned.  Many of these vessels are bulging and ropelike.  Most often, they form on the legs.  A varicose vessel occurs when a valve in a vein becomes damaged or ceases to function, causing blood that should be returned to the heart to fall downward instead.

Pregnancy increases blood volume and slows the speed that blood returns from a woman’s legs to her pelvis.  The developing fetus exerts pelvic pressure.  The result is increased pressure on veins, which tend to be more dilated due to increased levels of progestin during pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic.  The end result is a varicose vessel.  Large varicose vessels not only undermine self-confidence.  They can be painful.

Many people find a link between hemorrhoids and these vessels during pregnancy surprising.  The University of Rochester Medical Center indicates that they are similar problems.  Varicose vessels might form around the vagina and in or around the rectum during pregnancy.  A vein doctor refers to varicose vessels in the rectal area as hemorrhoids.

Vein Treatment Options

Healthcare professionals typically examine the legs and rectal areas of pregnant patients for signs of problem vessels.  A number of steps can help prevent or minimize the effects of these abnormal veins during pregnancy:

  • Taking a sitz bath or soaking in a tub several times a day for rectal discomfort
  • Adjusting the diet to minimize the risk of constipation
  • Elevating the legs
  • Changing position frequently to avoid standing for extended periods
  • Curtailing weight gain during a short period
  • Wearing support pantyhose or support hose that are thigh-high

These atypical veins are usually a short-term issue that improves after giving birth.  Recovery from the associated hormonal and vascular changes typically takes a few months to one year after delivery.

However, if the problem persists, a vascular surgeon can make an evaluation and recommend the appropriate vein treatment.  Many outpatient options are available.  Among the most common are endovenous ablation, duplex ultrasound, and ambulatory phlebectomy.