Varicose veins are enlarged, usually rising above the skin, and can be blue, red, or flesh-colored. Normal veins have valves that prevent the blood they carry from flowing backwards, away from the heart. Varicose veins are the result of valves that are no longer functioning as they should, which can cause blood to pool in the region of the “broken” or defective valve.
Women who are pregnant, or who have been pregnant, are more likely to develop varicose veins. A number of factors contribute to this increased risk for pregnant women. For one, pregnancy causes blood volume to increase, which puts additional pressure on the veins. Pregnancy also decreases the speed that blood returns to the heart from the legs and pelvis, which also increases pressure on the veins.
When a woman is pregnant, the amount of certain hormones in the body surges, including the amount of the hormone progestin. One of the effects of higher levels of progestin is that veins dilate, allowing for more blood to pass and increasing pressure on the veins. Another change in the body during pregnancy that increases the likelihood of developing varicose veins is the growth of the uterus, which puts pressure on the vena cava, the large vein that runs along the right side of the body.
The effects of varicose veins can be lessened or prevented by keeping the legs elevated as much as possible (the best circulation occurs when they are above the heart), change body positions regularly, wear compression stockings and monitor weight gain.