If you’re planning to have a baby or are already pregnant, your skin may be the last thing you think about. But pregnancy, while miraculous, can cause a number of skin conditions, including varicose veins.
The main cause of varicose veins is well understood. When circulation changes occur in the body from medical conditions or with age, the valves and walls of our veins can weaken and collapse. When veins are blocked, they get engorged and twisted, thus becoming more visible and inflamed. Varicose veins and spider veins occur when the veins in your legs bulge and become visible.
If you're expecting, you'll probably notice increased stress on your legs as your weight and body mass increases. Varicose veins are very common during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the body’s circulation (blood flow) changes in the lower extremities. When pregnant, your body’s blood volume increases while circulation to the legs and pelvis decreases. As a result, veins are put under more pressure and begin to bulge.
It's also possible that increased levels of progestin, a pregnancy hormone, cause veins to become more open, allowing blood to more easily “back up” and flow in the wrong direction. This causes the veins in your legs to twist and become inflamed. Additionally, as the uterus grows, it applies pressure on the inferior vena cava, which is responsible for pumping blood from your legs to your heart.
All of these factors can cause varicose veins on their own or in combination. Thankfully, though varicose veins can sometimes be itchy or painful, they are often little more than an unsightly nuisance.
Varicose veins can be treated by your dermatologist in a number of ways, but the good news is that medical treatment isn't usually necessary. In fact, for pregnant women, surgical or medical treatments to eliminate varicose veins are not recommended. Medical treatments like sclerotherapy work well to treat varicose veins, but they are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
There are preventative options for treating varicose veins when you're pregnant, however. Avoid sitting or standing for extended periods of time. If you're doing too much sitting, take a break and stand as often as you can. If it's safe for your pregnancy, exercise regularly to improve your circulation. There are maternity products that work like compression stockings to improve blood flow in your legs. Interestingly, sleeping on your left side will also help because it relieves pressure on your inferior vena cava. Elevating your legs often will also promote good blood flow.
Cosmetic treatments during pregnancy are generally thought to be unsafe and unnecessary. For most women, varicose veins clear up three to six months after pregnancy. Since the uterus is no longer pressuring the inferior vena cava and your hormone levels return to normal, varicose veins usually resolve on their own. If varicose veins are stubborn and stick around after six months postpartum, your dermatologist can go over treatment options that will help clear them up.
Pregnancy is an amazing thing, but it comes with its fair share of annoyances. If you're dealing with varicose veins caused by your pregnancy, reach out to your New England dermatologist for advice and treatment catered to your unique needs.