How Pregnancy Can Increase the Risk of Varicose Veins

Picture of a pregnant woman resting her hands over her stomach

In the United States today varicose veins are believed to affect around 50 percent of pregnant women. This unsightly condition isn't just unpleasant to look at it as it also can be potentially dangerous to your overall health [read more on varicose veins: what they are, symptoms, causes, treatments and preventions]. In some pregnancies women can begin to develop varicose veins and other vascular conditions due to a number of varying factors.

  • Estrogen - When you become pregnant, your body produces vast quantities of estrogen. This hormone has close and well-known ties to distortions of the blood vessels, which is thought to be caused by its vein-dilating properties. Furthermore, high levels of estrogen also promotes excessive blood clotting, something that adds fuel to the proverbial fire.
  • Fibrinogen - Fibrinogen, which helps blood clots to form, is a substance that your body produces naturally in response to inflammation. It is considerably higher in pregnant women, who may have levels as high a 4.5 grams per liter of blood, whereas non-pregnant women have around 3 grams per liter. Fibrinogen levels go hand-in-hand with oxidative stress. Bearing children is extremely hard on the body and also produces many metabolic waste products that eat through your antioxidant stores, causing inflammation and elevating fibrinogen.
  • Pressure - As your baby grows, the increased weight places great strain on the lower half of your body, which happens to be where varicose veins most commonly occur. The increased pressure traps fluids in the legs and feet, and it also hinders blood's ability to return to the heart. Because of this, it tends stagnates and clot inside the blood vessels. In addition, pressure forces the vasculature of the legs, feet, hips and even genitals outward, resulting in the telltale purplish bulges.
  • Lack of Physical Activity - Women have long been taught that they should do as little physical activity as possible because they're in a delicate condition. However, this advice is both erroneous and a great disservice. The risk of varicosities and other circulation problems are strongly aggravated by a sedentary lifestyle. Physical activity is critical for maintaining proper blood flow. It tones and strengthens the veins and makes the heart better able to bring blood back from the lower extremities. Women are advised to maintain a suitable regular exercise regimen during pregnancy, not only to prevent vascular complications but for their overall health and well-being.
  • Excess Vitamin K - If you're eating more veggies and salads in an attempt to take better care of yourself while pregnant, it may backfire on you. Many leafy greens, such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, Swiss chard and collards, contain enormous quantities of vitamin K. This vitamin promotes clotting which, in a normal individual, can be beneficial. However, when you're already susceptible to clotting problems as with pregnancy, it can do more harm than good.
  • Genetics - If your mother, grandmother or other female relatives suffered from varicosities while pregnant, odds are that you will, too. There is a strong genetic component to this condition, but it's not inevitable. Knowing this can serve as an advance warning and give you a chance to take preventative measures. In addition, they typically disappear after baby is born. However, if you're planning on another child, don't count on avoiding them a second time. After becoming pregnant again, they're usually there to stay.

It is important to note that varicose veins can also be potentially dangerous. Bulging, distended blood vessels are a sign that these important pathways aren't functioning properly, resulting in blood flow problems. It's important to be aware of the risk factors and do what you can to prevent varicose veins. Please visit your local doctor or vein specialist for a screening to diagnose the severity of the varicose vein condition.