Varicose veins appear on the surface of your skin, often on your legs. They take on a bumpy, blue or purple appearance and tend to develop or worsen while you’re pregnant.
While they can be unsightly, these varicose veins might not cause you any discomfort. However, they may cause an achy, heavy sensation in your legs and can induce burning, throbbing, or itching. And at the end of the day, if you’ve been on your feet for a long time, you’ll probably notice these symptoms getting worse.
So, to get to grips with varicose veins during pregnancy, we’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions below.
How Common Are Varicose Veins During Pregnancy?
Unfortunately, varicose veins are one of the most common complaints during pregnancy. And the risk of you developing them is heightened if you have a family history of them.
Who’s at risk of developing varicose veins while they’re pregnant, then?
Well, they can get worse with age and with each subsequent pregnancy. Standing for long periods of time, carrying more than one child at once (e.g., twins), and being overweight can also increase your chances of having them.
There is some good news, though! Once you’ve given birth, some varicose veins get better, especially if you didn’t notice them before you were pregnant. And if they don’t get better, there are treatments available.
Why Are Varicose Veins More Common During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy, more pressure is placed on the vein that’s located on the right-hand side of your body because your uterus is growing. The pressure on this vein (the inferior vena cava) puts the veins in your legs under more strain, too.
Your veins are responsible for sending deoxygenated blood back to your heart from your extremities (your hands and feet), which means your veins are already working hard to pump blood against gravity. And due to there being a higher level of blood in your body while you’re pregnant, this places more stress on your veins. This is added to by the increase of progesterone, which relaxes blood vessel walls.
Where Are Varicose Veins Most Common During Pregnancy?
Even though varicose veins are most common in the legs when you’re pregnant, they may also appear on your buttocks, vagina, or vulva during the latter stages of your pregnancy. In fact, 4% of women develop vulvar varicose veins.
Because, alongside the weight of the baby in your uterus, you also retain more water and fluids when you’re pregnant. This compression of the lower abdomen can cause veins in the vagina or vulva to become engorged. And when they develop in your rectum, this creates piles.
Varicose veins in these areas are almost always coupled with ones in the legs.
What Happens to These Varicose Veins When You’re Pregnant?
As your pregnancy progresses, these varicose veins will often worsen. They may start to swell and become more prominent, and may even cause you pain.
Once they become quite noticeable, it’s highly unlikely they’ll disappear post-pregnancy, and most women will have varicose veins afterward. However, any in your vagina or vulva should improve without treatment.
What Are the Symptoms of Varicose Veins During Pregnancy?
Every case of varicose veins is different, but some of the most common symptoms include:
- Throbbing or burning in your legs
- Muscle cramps, particularly during the night
Swollen ankles and feet
- Discomfort, heaviness, and itching in your legs
- Thinning and itching of your skin where the varicose vein has appeared
Equally, if you develop piles, you may notice discomfort or itching inside your buttocks. However, there shouldn’t be any pain unless the piles become swollen and severe. Vulvar varicose veins may be painful and tender, but you may not have any symptoms.
How Are Varicose Veins Diagnosed?
If you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, you should ask your doctor for their advice. They’ll be able to conduct a physical examination at first, which may be followed by an ultrasound to establish whether or not there are blood clots in the veins.
Often, it may be your midwife that notices varicose veins in the vulva.
How Are Varicose Veins Treated?
If you are diagnosed with varicose veins in your vulva, you won’t be given any treatment. This is because these varicose veins will often subside once you have given birth.
Furthermore, any treatment for varicose veins in your legs tends to be left until you’ve given birth.
Are Varicose Veins Serious When You’re Pregnant?
While varicose veins might not look good and can be itchy and uncomfortable, they are often harmless over the short period of time you’re pregnant. In most cases, treatment is delayed until you’ve had your baby.
Nevertheless, a small number of women will develop blood clots when they have varicose veins. This is also known as superficial venous thrombosis (SVT).
Can You Develop Blood Clots When You’ve Got Varicose Veins?
Unfortunately, you can. And when superficial venous thrombosis arises, the varicose vein may start to feel like a rope, taking on a hard consistency. The area around it may also become painful, tender, or hot.
As these clots can be serious, you should contact your doctor or emergency department immediately. You should also watch out for changes in color to the vein, sores that develop on your legs, and severe swelling in either leg.
The area around your clot may also become infected, causing chills or fever, which means you’ll need a course of antibiotics.
It’s important not to confuse this condition with deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which, even though it isn’t common, is more serious. And pregnant women are up to 10 times more likely to develop DVT than non-pregnant women. With similar symptoms to SVT, you should seek medical advice immediately.
How Can You Prevent Varicose Veins During Pregnancy?
There isn’t much you can do to stop yourself from developing varicose veins while you’re pregnant. However, there are some things you can do that will help delay them and prevent them from getting worse.
This includes refraining from standing for extended periods, maintaining a healthy weight, putting your feet up whenever possible, and seeking complementary therapies such as reflexology to help alleviate the symptoms.
What Happens if You Don’t Treat Varicose Veins?
As mentioned previously, treatment of varicose veins isn’t normally recommended until after you’ve given birth, and there aren’t any substantial risks involved in doing this.
Additionally, some varicose veins don’t need treating, even after pregnancy, as they’re often only a cosmetic issue. That said, it’s highly recommended to seek the advice of your doctor when you notice varicose veins. This allows them to rule out any other underlying problems, such as venous ulceration (ankle ulcers), venous pigmentation (changes in color to the skin around your ankle), venous eczema (dry skin), bleeding (due to the pressure the vein’s under), and Superficial venous thrombosis, or SVT.
Can Varicose Veins Come Back Once They’ve Been Treated?
When the procedure is carried out correctly by a vein specialist, most people will enjoy permanent results.
However, if any varicose veins do make a return afterward, it’s often only smaller ones that may develop into spider veins (especially if a larger vein has been treated). You can also wear compressible stockings and exercise regularly to help prevent these from occurring.
Coping with Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
Hopefully, all of the above has answered the many questions you may have about your varicose veins. And it’s important to remember that even though you may find these veins unsightly, they are heightened during pregnancy and should hopefully improve afterward.
That’s why you should wait up to a year after your pregnancy before you seek any treatments. This will give your body chance to heal, and you may also be ineligible for some treatments if you’re breastfeeding.
Here at USA Vein Clinics, we understand just how much varicose veins can impact your life, which is why we offer specialized treatment programs that are tailored to your unique needs. Simply call us today on 888-796-4013 to hear more about how we can treat the varicose veins you’ve developed during your pregnancy.