Pregnancy and Varicose Veins

pregnancy-varicose-veinsMy mother was 24 when she gave birth to this writer. I was her second child. For whatever reason, mom developed permanent and unsightly varicose veins in her legs during her second pregnancy and it wasn’t due to her age, obviously, or too much weight gain (she only weighed 119 pounds when she had me.) Those veins pestered her the rest of her life.

Why do some women acquire varicose veins during pregnancy or at some point in their life?

Understanding Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are dilated blood vessels popping up when a vessel wall becomes weakened. These veins contain valves functioning as one-way flaps preventing blood from flowing back as the blood heads toward the heart.

If the valve fails, blood leaks back into the vein, where it collects. This is called venous insufficiency.

Pooling blood increases the size of the vein making it varicose, meaning it is dilated or unusually swollen.

The veins are inflated, corded, twisted and bulging and either red, blue or flesh-colored. Sometimes the veins rise above the surface of the skin. They can hurt. If you are experiencing pain as a result of varicose veins inform your physician.


Genetics play a big part in whether a woman or man is afflicted with varicose veins. If your parents had them, there is a good chance you will, too.

At Risk
If you stand for long periods of time at work this can lead to varicose veins as can taking certain medications containing progesterone and estrogen, such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

When a female’s hormones go awry during puberty, pregnancy or menopause this increases the likelihood of developing unsightly varicose veins as can weight gain or a leg injury.

Pregnancy causes the quantity of blood in a woman’s body to increase considerably. However, this increase in blood does not occur in the legs, according to the Mayo Clinic. Instead, blood flow declines during gestation. That, along with the increased pressure on veins initiated by the growing fetus, often causes varicose veins to develop.

While pregnant, blood doesn’t return from the legs to your pelvis as rapidly as when not pregnant. This heightens pressure on the veins, according to Mary M. Murray, R.N., C.N.M., Mayo Clinic. Additionally, the increase in progestin, a hormone, triggers veins to dilate and this leads to varicose veins.

The Legs
These veins typically occur in legs because the veins in the legs have the arduous job of carrying blood back to the heart. The veins must handle a significant amount of pressure because legs are in the lower part of the body. Sometimes the valves in the veins can’t manage to accommodate what is required of them.

Consider how far the leg veins are from the heart and couple that with body weight and blood pressure with the force of gravity and you get a better notion why leg veins must work so diligently.

So what do you do to try to ward off or at least lessen varicose veins during pregnancy?

Elevate your legs and feet as often as possible. When your legs are higher than you heart this enhances blood circulation. When sleeping, put a pillow under your feet/legs to hoist them higher than normal.
If you have to stand a lot at work, pull up a chair and sit down as often as possible. (Your boss will have to get over it.) If you sit mostly, get up and take a stroll. Changing positions regularly helps.
Do not gain a ton of weight. The more weight gain and the faster the gain the more likely varicose veins will occur.

Run out and buy yourself some topnotch support hose right now. However, make sure they’re not too tight. Ask your Ob-Gyn what the recommended brand is for pregnant women.

A common means of treating varicose and spider veins is sclerotherapy which consists of a liquid chemical injected into the vein, causing the vein walls to expand, stick together and seal shut.

The vein turns into scar tissue because the flow of blood is stopped as a result of this procedure. Eventually the vein fades.

Another option is ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy using ultrasound imaging to direct the needle.

Some women and men opt for laser treatment, which is effective on smaller varicose veins. Stalwart surges of light are sent through the skin into the vein, causing the vein to bit by bit fade and disappear.

When the veins are deep, endovenous techniques, including laser and radio-frequency, are used. A slight catheter is inserted into the vein. A probe is placed through the tube and a device located at the tip of the probe heats up the inside of the vein, closing it off. The vein seals.

When varicose veins are big, surgery may be the answer. Surgical ligation and stripping entails tying shut the vein and removing it from the leg.

Another option is PIN stripping, which involves inserting a pin stripper into the vein. The top of this instrument is sewn to the end of the vein. When removed, the vein pulls out.

Ambulatory phlebectomy entails tiny cuts made in the skin with hooks used to extract the vein from the leg.

Good News
Some varicose veins disappear after pregnancy when the woman’s hormonal and vascular systems return to normal.

The older the person, the more likely he or she is to develop varicose veins because veins lose their stretchiness over time. When a vein cannot return blood flow upward, the veins in the legs become filled with de-oxygenated blood and turn blue as a result.

Share This Blog

About This Blogger

Cindi Pearce

Cindi Pearce has been writing professionally since the days of manual typewriters. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio University, Cindi is especially interested in women’s health concerns. She teaches yoga, is an amateur belly dancer, loves mowing her five acres of land with her beloved zero turn mower, has three grown children, one granddaughter and five large dogs. Cindi has managed to stay married to the same man for 35 years.