Many would argue that pregnancy is one of the most amazing things a woman can experience and that it is the most beautiful time in a woman’s life. But the reality is that, while the outcome of a healthy pregnancy is certainly very beautiful (a happy, healthy baby), the period of pregnancy itself can be uncomfortable at best. From nausea to fatigue, overall weight gain and fluid retention, to varicose veins in pregnancy, an expectant mother’s body undergoes a tsunami of changes – and many of these can be unpleasant.
Varicose veins are one of the most common complaints during pregnancy – as many as half of all pregnant women will develop this problem. Women (and their partners) need to understand why varicose veins arise during pregnancy, their symptoms, and how to prevent and manage the issue.
Do You Have Pregnancy-Related Varicose Veins?
- Prominent blueish or reddish veins under the skin
- Swollen or twisted veins visible under the skin of the legs
- Swollen ankles
- Skin redness or discolouration
- Achiness, cramping, or throbbing in the legs
- Itching on the legs
- Leg fatigue
- Haemorrhoids or vulva varicosity can cause pain or heaviness in the anal or genital area, or blood on the stool or toilet paper.
The symptoms of varicose veins tend to be worse later in the day, as lying down takes pressure off the legs and enhances venous blood flow back to the heart.
What Causes Varicose Veins in Pregnancy?
As mentioned above, up to 50% of women will experience varicose veins during pregnancy, and the severity usually intensifies with subsequent pregnancies. They most commonly affect the veins of the legs, but the genitals and rectum/anus can also be impacted.
Women with a mother or grandmother who suffered from varicose veins are more vulnerable to having the same problem.
Varicose veins occur in pregnancy as a result of the myriad changes that are taking place in the woman’s body, including:
Hormonal changes. Pregnancy hormones surge throughout gestation, and one impact of these is that the vein walls soften and lose some rigidity. As a result, the veins do not function properly, and blood in the leg veins tends to pool. Varicose vein formation is the result of this.
- Increased blood volume. The volume of blood circulating in the mother’s body increases to support the growth and development of her baby. This increase begins early in gestation and progressively escalates over the entire pregnancy. The total blood volume increase averages 45% but varies between 20% – 100%. The increase in blood volume puts extra stress on the blood vessels, particularly the veins, enlarging them and weakening their walls and valves.
- Compromised venous return. The growing baby and other uterine contents (placenta, umbilical cord, amniotic fluid) put an enormous amount of pressure on the inferior vena cava and the other pelvic veins. (The inferior vena cava or IVC is the large vein on the middle-right side of the body that transports blood from the lower body back to the heart.). This enhances the risk of developing chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins in the legs and also in the pelvis.
- Haemorrhoids are also common in pregnancy and are the most common type of pelvic varicose veins. These are varicose veins of the rectum/anus, and occur due to pressure on the pelvis and inferior vena cava, as well as a consequence of constipation, which is quite common during pregnancy. Additionally, vulvar varicosities may occur at the entry to the vagina and on the upper inner thigh. These can cause pressure, pain or heaviness in the genital area, as well as swelling or itchiness of the area, and pain that worsens with standing, exercising, and sexual activity.
Varicose Veins in Pregnancy Treatment – Tips & Management
For most women, varicose veins in pregnancy are a temporary and harmless issue – though they can be unsightly and uncomfortable. There are ways to manage the problem and help prevent it from worsening.
- Avoid crossing your legs at the knee or ankle when sitting.
- Move around as much as you can. Take frequent short walks, especially if you need to sit or stand in one place for extended periods.
- Put your feet up as much as you can. Ideally, the feet should be raised above hip level.
- Try to maintain a healthy weight, within the healthy weight gain parameters for your pregnancy. Speak to your obstetrician or midwife for appropriate advice and guidance for safe weight management.
- Try to maintain a schedule of gentle, low impact exercising (per medical approval).
- Don’t wear high heels during pregnancy.
- Don’t wear restrictive clothing, especially anything tight around the waist, pelvis, and legs.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid consuming too much sugar and salt.
- Sleep on your left side. This helps to take pressure off the inferior vena cava.
- Wear support hosiery specifically designed for maternity wear. This gently and evenly compresses the muscles of the legs to help return blood to the heart. Avoid wearing tight socks or knee-hi’s, which can squeeze the leg too much in a particular spot.
- Manage constipation if it occurs.
Many women who suffer from varicose veins during pregnancy will find the issue naturally resolves within 3-12 months of delivery of their baby.
If veins are painful, warm to touch, or hard, or the skin overlying them is red or otherwise bothering you, seek medical advice promptly.
In most cases, you should wait a year after delivering your baby to undergo vein treatment as varicose veins usually resolve on their own in this time. Pregnancy-related varicose veins that do not resolve within one year of the birth of your baby may need to be treated by a vein specialist like Dr Nicole James at Crows Nest Vein Clinic.
Contact Crows Nest Vein Clinic
If you have developed varicose veins during pregnancy and they do not improve in the subsequent 12 months, or they are very severe, you may benefit from, minimally invasive varicose vein treatment to resolve your symptoms and improve the appearance of your legs.
Our treatment approach to varicose veins offers many benefits:
- Minimally invasive
- Expert, experienced, internationally trained vein specialist
- Same-day, walk-in walk-out treatment
- No general anaesthesia
- No hospitalisation
- Our extremely high success rate
- No downtime
- Minimal discomfort
- Medicare rebates