Varicose veins are not pretty, but they are a pregnancy symptom that you should know about. Varicose veins are large, swollen blood vessels that typically appear on your leg. The veins may be blue or purple, and they can bulge near the surface of your skin.
They are most noticeable on your legs, but you can get them in your rectal area (the varicose veins in the rectal area are called hemorrhoids), and you can also get them on your vulva (called vulvar varicosities).
Varicose veins can be painless, giving you little or no discomfort at all, other than their unsightly appearance. Some women say that varicose veins in pregnancy do make their legs feel achy or heavy. When you experience this pregnancy symptom, you may notice that the skin around the varicose vein may itch, throb, or feel like it’s burnt. This pregnancy symptom is usually worse at the end of the day, because you’ve been on your feet a lot.
Causes of Varicose Veins in Pregnancy
During pregnancy, your expanding uterus places pressure on the inferior vena cava, which is a large vein on the right side of your body that transports blood from your legs back to your heart. This extra pressure can also increase pressure on the veins in your leg. In addition, you are pumping more blood in your body during pregnancy (to support the needs of the baby growing inside of you). This adds the burden on your veins. Hormonal changes also play a role in the development of varicose veins, because the higher levels of the hormone progesterone can cause the wall of your blood vessels to relax.
Not all pregnant women will get varicose veins. You’re at higher risk for varicose veins in pregnancy if there is a family history of this pregnancy symptom. Varicose veins tend to be worse with each pregnancy you have, and they occur more often in older women.
If you are overweight, pregnant with twins or multiples, or your job requires you to remain standing for long periods of time, you are also more susceptible to getting varicose veins in pregnancy.
Fortunately, varicose veins tend to get better after you deliver your baby.
How to Prevent Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
While there is no foolproof way to completely prevent varicose veins, there are a number of techniques you can try to minimize their appearance.
For one, you’ll want to exercise on a daily basis. You don’t have to do a lot of exercise. Simply a brisk walk around the neighborhood can really improve your circulation. Good circulation may improve your odds of having no varicose veins at all.
When you are sitting, don’t cross your legs or ankles. This impairs circulation and worsens varicose veins in pregnancy.
Sleeping on your left side may also help prevent pregnancy varicose veins. The inferior vena cava is on the right side of your body, so when you sleep on the left side, this shifts the weight of the uterus away from the vein, which decreases pressure on the veins of your feet and legs and improves circulation.
Some women who suffer from varicose veins in pregnancy find that special support hose (or graduated-compression stockings) help. These stockings are twice as thick as normal panty house and you can find them at many pharmacies. They improve circulation, reduce swelling, and they can improve the appearance of varicose veins.