How Pregnancy Increases the Risk for Varicose Veins

Updated on: November 28, 2018

If you are pregnant and have varicose veins, you are not alone. These swollen, twisted veins are a common occurrence during pregnancy. Sometimes they will go away by themselves after you give birth, but they can stick around much longer.

Learn how pregnancy affects your vein health, how to reduce varicose vein symptoms during pregnancy, and how you can have varicose veins treated to make your next pregnancy more comfortable.

How is pregnancy linked to varicose veins?

Varicose veins are swollen, twisted veins that you can see under the skin. They usually appear blue or red. They often occur in the legs, but can also appear on other parts of the body.

Varicose veins are caused when the valves or walls of your veins don’t work properly. This allows blood to flow backwards and pool in the vein. This gives varicose veins their swollen look.

Pregnancy does not cause varicose veins, but it can increase your risk of developing them for several reasons:

  • Increased blood volume. During pregnancy your body increases the amount of blood in your arteries and veins in order to nurture your growing baby. This puts more pressure on the veins of your legs, which causes the veins to stretch.
  • Increased pressure in the abdomen and pelvis from the baby. As your baby grows, the pressure in your abdomen and pelvis increases, which makes it harder for blood in the veins flow from the legs to the heart.
  • Increased hormones. The hormones that your body needs for a healthy pregnancy—estrogen and progesterone—can also weaken the walls of your veins. This makes it easier for them to become swollen with the extra blood and increased pressure.
  • Decreased physical activity. During pregnancy, you may move around less, which increases your risk of developing varicose veins. This one is true for everyone, not just pregnant women.

Common symptoms of varicose veins

Varicose veins often show up in the third trimester. You may find that your varicose veins appear earlier with subsequent pregnancies. They will sometimes clear up within a year after giving birth, but can last longer or not go away at all.

Varicose veins are not limited to the legs. They may also appear in your vulva. In addition, hemorrhoids are varicose veins that appear on your anus and lower rectum. Hemorrhoids can be worsened by constipation, another common occurrence during pregnancy.

The most common symptoms of varicose veins in the legs include:

  • Swollen, twisted veins visible just under your skin
  • Mild swelling in your feet and ankles
  • Achy, painful or heavy-feeling legs
  • Cramping or throbbing in your legs
  • Itchy legs, often on the ankle and lower legs
  • Change in the color of the skin around the varicose vein

Some of these symptoms can be caused by other, more serious conditions. Contact your doctor if the symptoms persist or worsen.

Preventing Varicose Veins in Pregnancy

You cannot prevent varicose veins from forming. However, there are several ways that you can reduce the symptoms during pregnancy, such as:

  • Avoid sitting or standing still for a long time
  • Elevate your legs above the level of your heart for at least 15 minutes several times a day.
  • Stay as active as possible.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing around your legs, thighs and waist. These can make it harder for blood to flow from the legs.
  • Wear compression stockings. These are available from pharmacies and medical supply stores.
  • If you cross your legs, notice whether that makes your varicose vein symptoms worse. If so, avoid crossing your legs. Often, crossing your legs is just a sign that you are sitting still for too long.

Treating varicose veins before pregnancy

If your varicose veins remain long after you give birth, of if they caused a lot of discomfort during your pregnancy, you can have them treated before your next pregnancy.

Treatment for varicose veins include:

  • Sclerotherapy. A special chemical is injected into the vein to cause scarring. The vein then collapses and eventually fades away.
  • Laser therapy. Focused light from a laser heats the vein and causes it to collapse. Over time it will fade away.
  • Endovenous ablation therapy. A small tube (catheter) is inserted into your vein through a cut in your skin. A laser or radiofrequency radiation is used to heat and close off the vein. The vein will fade over time.
  • Ambulatory phlebectomy. The vein is removed with a special hook through several small cuts in the skin.
  • Vein stripping and ligation. The vein is tied off and removed through small cuts in your skin.

These procedures will not prevent new varicose veins from forming, but they may make your next pregnancy more comfortable.

Updated Nov. 1, 2017

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