Varicose and Spider Veins
If you develop varicose veins during pregnancy like Harper did, take heart: They're a common badge of motherhood. In fact, according to the American College of Phlebology, up to 50 percent of American women have varicose veins, especially women who are pregnant.
Varicose veins occur when tiny valves inside large leg veins, which normally scoop up blood and propel it against gravity toward the heart, don't function well. As a result, blood doesn't flow efficiently, pooling in leg veins and causing them to enlarge and become visible.
Unfortunately, this genetic condition tends to worsen with each pregnancy. Several factors contribute to varicose veins in pregnancy, says Luis Navarro, MD, director of The Vein Treatment Center, in New York City: "the increase in female hormones, which relax vein walls; a growing uterus, which puts pressure on veins inside the abdomen, making it more difficult for blood to circulate in the legs; and the fact that blood volume doubles during pregnancy." (More blood gives veins a bigger job to do.)
Of course, bulging veins can be unsightly. Fortunately, though, varicose veins pose no health risk for you or your baby.
To get relief: Wear compression stockings (aka support hose). Working with your calf muscles, the stockings help the blood in your leg veins circulate by producing upward pressure from the outside in. Your ob-gyn can advise you on the level of compression you'll need.
Exercise, such as walking, is also key. "As you walk, the muscles of the feet and calves contract, which helps keep blood from pooling," says Dr. Navarro. If your legs ache, elevating them when you're lying down or using a footstool when you're sitting can relieve symptoms.
After you deliver, varicose veins may naturally shrink. But if the veins are still present three months after delivery or if your ankles or legs are still swollen and feel heavy, it's time to see a doctor. All are signs that the valves in your legs veins are not doing their job. Treatment options vary depending on the extent of your condition, ranging from minimally invasive outpatient procedures to those that require general anesthesia and a short hospital stay.
A close cousin to varicose veins, spider veins are also common during pregnancy. Also genetic, spider veins occur when tiny blood vessels near the skin's surface dilate due to increased hormone production in pregnancy.
Roughly 60 percent of women with varicose veins will also have spider veins, estimates Dr. Navarro. Although they may burn, spider veins are simply a cosmetic issue, he says. Those that don't disappear after baby is born can usually be treated, though insurance will seldom cover it.