Pregnant women are prepared to deal with morning sickness, fatigue, and heartburn. But few know that pregnancy increases their risk of vein disease.
At the Memphis Vein Center, board-certified cardiologist Kishore Arcot, MD, specializes in preventing and treating vein disease, including the conditions that often begin during pregnancy. In this blog, he gives you all the information you need to know about the impact of pregnancy on your veins.
How pregnancy leads to vein disease
As soon as you become pregnant, your cardiovascular system goes through dramatic changes. While these changes are essential for your growing baby, they have a negative impact on the veins in your lower legs.
Four pregnancy-related changes work together to increase your risk of developing vein disease:
Blood volume increases
Your blood volume increases during pregnancy. Though the total increase varies for each woman, on average blood volume goes up by 45%. As more blood circulates through your veins, the valves work harder to return deoxygenated blood to your heart.
Hormones affect veins
Hormonal changes relax veins and weaken the vein walls, which allows the vein to enlarge to accommodate the more blood. But these changes stretch the valves that open to let blood flow toward your heart and close to stop blood from going backward. As a result, the valves can’t work properly and blood goes backward.
Baby adds pressure
As your baby grows, the increasing weight pushes down and places pressure on the veins in your upper legs and lower abdomen. The pressure forces blood to stay in the leg veins rather than flowing upward. In the third trimester, the baby's weight may block your veins.
Clotting factors rise
During pregnancy, proteins that trigger blood clotting increase. While this serves the essential role of regulating blood loss during delivery, the extra clotting factors increase your risk of developing venous thromboembolism.
Types of vein disease during pregnancy
Pregnancy makes you more likely to develop the following vein diseases:
Chronic venous insufficiency
Chronic venous insufficiency affects up to 80% of all pregnant women. This condition develops when the valves weaken, allowing blood to flow down your leg veins. As the refluxing blood accumulates in the vein, pressure in your lower leg veins increases.
High venous pressure forces fluids out of the veins in your lower leg. The fluids then cause complications such as skin rashes, discolored and thickened skin, and open wounds called venous stasis ulcers.
Leg ulcers pose a significant threat to your health because they don’t heal on their own. Without intensive wound care, the ulcer enlarges and causes dangerous skin and bone infections.
Chronic venous insufficiency also causes varicose veins. As refluxing blood builds up, the vein enlarges, and you end up with twisted, bulging, deep blue or purple varicose veins. For many women, varicose veins cause such symptoms as leg pain, itching, heaviness, and burning.
Your varicose veins may improve within a few months after delivery. But bulging veins don't get better for all women, and even if they get smaller, you may still have unsightly veins.
Venous thromboembolism (VTE)
VTE occurs when you develop a blood clot in a vein. There are two types of VTE: deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.
Deep vein thrombosis occurs when the blood clot develops in a vein deep in the center of your leg. This condition causes such symptoms as pain, swelling, and red, warm-feeling skin.
If a blood clot breaks free, it can travel through your veins and get stuck in your lungs. That's when you have a pulmonary embolism, a condition that can turn life-threatening if it blocks blood flow to the lung.
The signs of a pulmonary embolism include chest pain, difficulty breathing, and pain when breathing.
When you develop vein problems during pregnancy, you can turn to us for a wide range of safe and effective treatments. If you have questions about your vein health or need to schedule an appointment, call our Memphis, Tennessee, center or request an appointment online today.