Varicose veins are abnormal veins. They are blue, twisted and bulge above the skin. These veins have become weakened and balloon up with blood. The valves inside these veins no longer close allowing blood to leak back down the leg producing a distention of the vein.
The exact cause of varicose veins is not known but heredity is the number one contributing factor. Other factors include prolonged standing, pregnancy and aging. Varicose veins in addition to being unsightly can cause symptoms such as tiredness, dull achiness, swelling, throbbing and pain along the vein.
Spider veins are a class of very tiny varicose veins. Initially spider veins appear as faint red lines on the skin surface. While the treatment of spider veins and varicose veins is considered cosmetic the majority of patients seeking treatment have real complaints.
The most frequent complaints are dull, generalized aching especially after prolonged standing, discomfort localized over the area of spider or varicose veins, night cramps and restless legs. These complaints can get worse during menses and warmer weather.
Varicose Veins & Pregnancy
Women often notice the appearance of varicose veins during their first pregnancy. Varicose veins appear early in pregnancy and are visible as soon as six weeks into pregnancy. For women who already have varicose veins pregnancy makes them worse.
Varicose veins occur in 20% of all women during their first pregnancy and this doubles during the second pregnancy. After each successive pregnancy, fewer and fewer varicose veins tend to disappear.
Early in pregnancy there are high levels of circulating hormones called estrogen and progesterone that are used to prepare the mother for childbirth. These hormones dilate the veins in legs, not allowing their valves to close tightly. This lets blood leak back down the leg forming varicose veins during pregnancy.
During the third month of pregnancy there is an increase in blood volume due to the placenta. In addition, the growing uterus becomes large enough to compresses and partially block both pelvic and leg veins causing further widening of the veins in the leg.
Varicose veins of pregnancy can range from tiny spider veins to large bulging veins anywhere on the leg. About half the women during pregnancy experience leg swelling and close to 40% have associated skin changes. These skin changes include increased pigmentation, stretch marks, and temporary blue and red blotches on the skin.
During pregnancy varicose veins should be given support with graduated compression stockings. Stockings help decrease swelling and discomfort. They also can help prevent phlebitis.
At the Capital Region Vein Centre we recommend a lightweight, shear maternity compression stocking that is comfortable and gives support to your varicose veins. These stockings should be worn from the time one gets up in the morning until bedtime throughout pregnancy and immediately after birth.
- Avoid standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time
- If sitting rise on your tiptoes frequently to stimulate blood flow
- When sitting, move or flex your feet often
- Avoid tight fitting garments
- On long car rides, make several stops and walk as much as possible
- At home keep legs elevated on two pillows, but with your knees slightly flexed
- If possible raise the foot of the bed on six inch cinder blocks
- Take time to lay with your legs raised above your heart to allow blood to drain