If you have unusually swollen veins that bulge near the skin surface, then you may have varicose veins. Such veins often appear blue or purple in colour and squiggly on the skin’s surface. Usually, veins have valves on their walls to prevent blood backflow. The veins sometimes lose their elasticity, resulting in weak valves. Weak valves have compromised functionalities, causing the blood to flow backwards. Subsequently, blood collects in the veins, causing them to appear swollen and enlarged, resulting in varicose veins. Varicose veins mostly appear on the legs but can develop on the vulva or rectal area, causing haemorrhoids. General risk factors for varicose veins include family history, older age, female gender, pregnancy, overweight or obesity, lack of movement, and leg trauma. This article discusses varicose veins arising from pregnancy and overweight, looking into causes, risk factors, prevention measures, and treatment options.
Signs and Symptoms
The most prevalent sign of varicose veins is the appearance of swollen veins on the skin surface. In some people, varicose veins cause little or no symptoms. However, in others, varicose veins have the following symptoms:
- Itching and slight pain in the swelling
- A feeling of heaviness in the legs, especially at the end of the day
- Swollen feet and ankles
- A dull ache in the legs
- Pregnant women and overweight individuals have the highest prevalence of varicose veins.
- Varicose Veins from Pregnancy
In pregnancy, varicose veins are caused by increased blood pressure. As the pregnancy progresses, the uterus increases in size, putting pressure on the large vein on the right side of the body known as the inferior vena cava. The pressure is transferred to the veins in the lower limbs, causing them to bulge. During pregnancy, blood volume increases, adding pressure to the veins. The veins’ primary role is to return blood from all body parts to the heart. Veins at the legs usually work against gravity, causing additional pressure to the vessels. A build-up of blood in veins results in varicose veins.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also lead to varicose veins. Elevated progesterone levels, the hormone that maintains pregnancy, can cause dilated veins as a mechanism of facilitating the physiological changes that result from pregnancy.
A woman is highly likely to experience varicose veins during pregnancy if other family members have had them. The varicose veins are also more likely to worsen during pregnancy if one has had them before. Also, the condition may worsen with successive pregnancies and with age. Other risk factors for varicose veins in pregnancy include carrying multiples, being overweight or obese, and standing for long periods of time.
Research posits that varicose veins are non-lethal in the short term. However, the varicose veins may cause discomfort due to itchiness and their potential to affect aesthetic beauty negatively. However, a few people with varicose veins may develop superficial venous thrombosis. This condition causes small blood clots to emerge near the skin surface. Typically, the blood clots have a rope-like appearance and usually cause pain and discomfort. Superficial venous thrombosis can be life-threatening as it can result in serious infection in the area having varicose veins. Women with blood clotting disorders are more likely to develop superficial venous thrombosis.
There are a number of measures that pregnant women can take to prevent or minimize varicose veins during pregnancy.
- Avoid wearing heels: Low heels and flat shoes reduce the pressure on the calf muscles; thus, promoting healthy circulation.
- Wearing maternity support hosiery can promote blood flow up the legs towards the heart by exerting pressure on the leg region.
- Stay within the recommended weight range at any particular stage of pregnancy.
- Follow a daily exercise routine to improve circulation. Consult your doctor to confirm the safety and intensity of exercise regimens during pregnancy.
- Maintain an upright posture and elevate your feet and legs at the level of the heart.
- Avoid crossing your legs at the knees or ankles to facilitate proper blood flow.
- Staying hydrated and consuming a fiber-rich diet is essential to prevent constipation.
- Avoid standing or sitting for prolonged time periods; take breaks in between.
- Wearing compression socks. Such socks are specially made to make it easier for blood to flow back to the heart, keeping varicose veins at bay.
- Sleeping on your left side is helpful. Some medical professionals believe that lying on the left side relieves the weight on the uterus, taking pressure off the inferior vena cava, and consequently, on the legs and feet. There is, however, no evidence-based proof on this theory.
Treatment is the most effective strategy for reducing varicose veins after giving birth. Taking crucial measures such as regular exercise, wearing compression socks, avoiding standing for long periods, and adopting a proper posture can effectively treat varicose veins after pregnancy. In most women, varicose veins improve after about four months following birth. It may take longer for women who have high blood pressure or those who have had multiple births.
Since varicose veins in pregnancy are mainly as a result of a disruption in regular blood circulation, various treatment options available after birth aim at mitigating blood flow. Varicose vein surgery after pregnancy is a treatment option in cases where the veins do not subside after giving birth, or if an infection arises. Such treatment options include vein stripping where veins are tied off and removed via sclerotherapy or ablative therapies aimed at sealing the veins.
Varicose Veins from Being Overweight
The risk of varicose vein occurrence also typically increases in obese and overweight people. Not all overweight and obese people have varicose veins. However, the likelihood of occurrence of the condition is increased by risk factors such as being female, older age, family history, standing for long hours, and pregnancy.
Though it is not clearly understood how excess weight influences occurrence of varicose veins, it is postulated that varicose veins are associated with an insufficiency that alters blood circulation. Excess weight puts extra pressure on veins as they have to work harder to push blood towards the heart. This increases pressure on the valves, making them more prone to malfunctions, and consequently, resulting in varicose veins.
Varicose veins cause may cause adverse health implications in overweight individuals. In addition to predisposing one to infection caused by blood clots, the problem may be prolonged because the problem is often masked by subcutaneous fat. This occurrence can cause leg ulcers which are difficult to treat in overweight individuals due to such problems interfering with blood circulation.
The following measures can prevent and decrease varicose veins as a result of being overweight.
- Exercise daily to improve blood circulation. Seek a doctor’s advice on suitable exercises.
- Control your weight by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity, healthy eating, and a positive outlook towards life can improve your overall health, and enable you to maintain a healthy weight. Overweight people can enroll in weight loss regimens to help them attain normal body weight.
- Intake of vitamin E boosts blood circulation, while vitamin B and C, contribute to strong blood vessels. Consult your doctor concerning supplement intake beforehand.
- Decrease consumption of sodium to reduce swelling of blood vessels.
- Avoid wearing high heels for prolonged periods of time as they exert strain on blood flow.
- Massage feet and legs with natural oils such as castor oils, directly on the vessels in an upwards direction to stimulate blood flow.
- Avoid standing or sitting for prolonged periods.
Treatment for most overweight people who have mild symptoms is preceded by an effort to lose weight. Measures such as wearing compression socks and supporting the legs at the level of the heart can reduce their appearance.
Dermatologists and vascular surgeons can treat varicose veins appearing close to the skin through the following procedures:
- Sclerotherapy. This strategy involves the injection of an irritant into the affected vein, causing the vein to ‘die’ and shut down.
- External laser therapy. This is done for smaller superficial varicose veins where laser rays are utilized to shrink the affected veins.
- Vein stripping and ligation. This is a traditional form of surgery that involves tying off the varicose veins and pulling them out of the body through skin cuts.
- Ambulatory phlebotomy. This procedure is similar to vein stripping and ligation, though, incisions made are smaller and less invasive.
- Endogenous thermal ablation. A technique that uses laser or high-frequency radio waves to heat and kill varicose veins.
- Trans-illumination power phlebotomy
Varicose veins can be a short-term problem as in pregnancy, or a long-term problem that can be controlled through physical activity, wearing compression socks, and weight control and leg elevation. If you have varicose veins, then it is vital to schedule an appointment with a doctor to explore a variety of treatment options. Surgical procedures often leave scars and are not a guaranteed prevention method for new varicose veins to appear. For this reason, it is imperative to visit a vein clinic to discuss with a health professional on strategies to control the emergence of varicose veins; especially if you are pregnant or overweight.
Individuals who have varicose veins should seek immediate medical attention if they develop swelling, skin ulcers, or unexplained bruising on their legs.
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