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Varicose Veins in Pregnancy – Why They Develop and How to Prevent Them

By Published On: May 14th, 2012

Although the outcome is wonderful, pregnancy comes along with some not so great side effects – some of which can be prevented to a certain extent and some of which Mums to be can do very little about. One common side effect of pregnancy is the development of varicose veins.

What are Varicose Veins? 

Varicose veins are swollen veins that bulge near the surface of the skin. They are often a rather prominent blue or purple in color and most often they appear on your legs although pregnant ladies may also develop them in their vulva area or even on their breasts and in reality hemorrhoids (another nasty pregnancy side effect) are really varicose veins of the anus.

Varicose veins vary in severity. Often they cause no discomfort at all, just simple look rather unsightly. They can make your legs feel tired and heavy though and sometimes the skin around them can feel itchy and hot.

Most women who have varicose veins first develop them when they become pregnant. As the uterus grows it puts pressure on the inferior vena cava, the large vein on the right side of your body. In turn this puts pressure on leg veins and varicosoties may develop. In addition pregnant women also have a higher volume of blood flowing through their veins so that fact also puts extra pressure on hardworking veins and can cause them to weaken and swell.

Women who have a family history of varicosties are more likely to develop varicose veins in pregnancy as are those who are pregnant with multiples. If you have a job where you have to be on your feet a lot makes anyone – male or female – more prone to developing varicose veins and that is especially true for pregnant women.

Preventing Varicose Veins in Pregnancy 

Although you may not be able to prevent varicose veins completely, especially if this is not your first pregnancy, there are some things you can do to minimize the chances they will develop and their severity if they do. Here are some of the things you can try:
Take a daily walk. Even a short walk around the park every day can go a long way to keep varicose veins at bay.

Keep your legs elevated whenever possible. If you work at a desk for most of the day invest in a footstool to prop your feet up on while you work. If on the other hand you have a job that keeps you on your feet a lot try to get a “sitting break’ at least once an hour.

Don’t cross your legs or ankles when you are sitting down.

Invest in some compression socks or stockings. These are hose that are twice as thick as regular hose and are tight at the ankle and then get looser further up. this encourages easier bloodflow back to the heart and can help your legs from feeling too “tired” as well as help prevent varicose veins. If you do opt to try compression hose put them on as soon as you get up in the morning for the best outcomes.

Are Varicose Veins a Medical Problem or Just Ugly? 

For the most part varicose veins are an ugly, sometimes uncomfortable, annoyance but they don’t really present a threat to your health most of the time. a few people who suffer from varicose veins eventually develop what is called superficial venous thrombosis which is the formation of small clots within the varicose vein which show up as small hard lumps and can be painful. These clots are rarely serious but you should still tell your health-care provider about them as if they become infected they need to be treated with antibiotics.

​These small clots should not be confused with a DVT – deep venous thrombosis – which is a very different condition which can be very dangerous. A DVT is a clot that develops in the deep veins and being pregnant may slightly increase your risk for DVT but such complications in pregnancy are pretty rare, occurring in about 1 in 1,000 pregnant women. Still if your varicose veins are a concern for you a reassuring talk with your doctor is always a good idea.

Getting Rid of Varicose Veins 

The good news is that as you lose weight and become more active again pregnancy related varicose veins do tend to improve a few months after you give birth although it is unlikely that they will completely disappear and should you get pregnant again they will quite probably flare up again.

If you truly hate your varicose veins or they give you constant pain there are treatments available to help. For a long time the only surgical way to treat varicose veins was by an invasive (and rather serious) surgical procedure called stripping and ligation which removed the damaged vein for good. These days though advances in medicine have given us a way to treat varicose veins with a procedure called radio-frequency ablation with collapses damaged veins using heat and electricity. It is a very simple and effective procedure with little downtime but at the moment it is rarely covered by health insurance and is considered a cosmetic procedure most of the time.

Spider Veins 

Some women confuse varicose veins with another common pregnancy side effect – spider veins. Spider veins can appear quickly and all over the body. they do not bulge and they look like tiny purple of blue lines that look like a spider web -hence the name. Spider veins are the result of small breaks in blood vessels and will often fade on their own over time. They rarely ever cause pain and can be treated by a cosmetic procedure called schlerotherapy if a person is truly unhappy with the way they look. This is not a permanent procedure like RF ablation is though.