What Causes Varicose Veins During Pregnancy?

So…you’re expecting a little bundle of joy! Congratulations! But, what you might not have expected were little bundles of veins—varicose veins—popping up all over your legs. Along with pregnancy, unfortunately, comes an increased risk of varicosities. Read on to learn more about how expecting a baby and this unsightly, and sometimes painful, side effect often go hand-in-hand.

What Causes Varicose Veins During Pregnancy?

Unfortunately, pregnancy itself is one of the major risk factors for varicose veins. Varicose veins develop when the valves that bring blood back to the heart from the legs become damaged. Blood pools in the veins, causing bulging, swelling, and discomfort. There are several causes of varicose veins during pregnancy:

  • Heredity. One of the biggest contributing factors of varicose veins is one you have no control over: heredity. If other women in your family have experienced varicose veins, the chances are greater that you will, too. Knowing your family’s history of varicose veins can help you know whether you are at a higher risk of getting them.
  • Increased blood volume. During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume doubles to supply blood to both her and her baby. This increased volume puts extra pressure on the blood vessels, especially those in the legs, which have to work against gravity to push the extra blood back up to the heart. The speed at which a pregnant woman’s blood returns from her legs, in turn, decreases due to the heavy volume. These factors together increase the chances of blood pooling in the legs and ankles.
  • Hormones. Hormone levels rise during pregnancy, causing the vein walls to become more dilated and relaxed, resulting in an increased risk of varicosities.
  • Increased pressure from the uterus. As the uterus grows, it puts pressure on a large vein on the right side of the body, which increases pressure in the leg veins.
  • Additional factors. Being overweight, carrying multiples, and standing for long periods of time also increase a pregnant woman’s chances of developing varicose veins. Varicose veins also tend to get worse with age and with each subsequent pregnancy.

What Can I Do to Prevent Varicose Veins During Pregnancy?

While you can’t prevent all risk factors, especially a family history of varicose veins and hormonal changes, you can still take steps to help prevent or lessen the effects of varicose veins during pregnancy.

  • Watch your weight. Keep your weight within the recommended range for your stage of pregnancy. Extra weight only increases the demands on your already overworked circulatory system.
  • Get moving. Exercise is key in preventing varicose veins, so take a walk or participate in some other form of low-intensity exercise daily.

If you’re having pain, even if it’s just a dull ache, or are just generally worried about your varicose veins, don’t hesitate to get help.