Varicose veins are an unfortunate side effect of pregnancy. They can cause a significant amount of pain and can be found in a variety of areas, such as the legs and feet, the stomach, the vulvar area in the groin and the rectum (hemorrhoids). Fortunately, varicose veins during pregnancy often do not require medical treatment and may go away within a few months of birth.
what causes varicose veins during pregnancy
Varicose veins are swollen and bulging areas on the surface of the skin; they are often blue, purple or red. For some people, they can cause pain or discomfort, but for others, they may just cause a feeling of heaviness. They may even be itchy and irritated. Varicose veins form due to inadequacies of the veins in the affected area; the vessel walls become weak. The valves that keep the blood flowing towards the heart also become weak. Typically, the vessels are able to pump deoxygenated blood to the heart; if the walls and valves are weak, the blood may flow backwards, causing the blood to pool, thus forming a varicosity. For the pregnant woman, there is an increased chance of developing varicose veins due to the increased blood volume and decreased lower extremity circulation. As the baby grows, the uterus also grows. The growing pressure of the baby and uterus puts pressure on the inferior vena cava, which then increases the pressure exerted on the lower extremities. In addition, hormonal changes due to pregnancy can cause the vessel walls to relax; this is caused by an increase in progesterone.
Some women do not get varicose veins during pregnancy. Others do – and the chance that they will get them increases if they have a family history of varicosities. In addition, being overweight or obese and carrying multiples may increase the chance of varicose veins. Unfortunately, if you develop varicose veins in your first pregnancy, chances are increased that you’ll develop the varicosities in subsequent pregnancies.
Vulvar varicosities can be extremely unpleasant. Some women develop them and do not know they are there until told by their physician. Others find them due to symptomology. Varicose veins in the vulvar region can cause pain, a sense of fullness and swelling. They can also cause swelling and bulging of the vessels, just as they can in other areas of the body. Relieving pressure on the vulva will help relieve symptoms. There is support garments designed specifically for vulvar varicosities. Swimming may help relieve pressure by lifting the baby temporarily, and can increase blood flow to the area. Elevating the hips while sitting may help promote circulation. Ice packs can bring temporary relief.
How to prevent varicose veins during pregnancy
To prevent varicose veins in the lower extremities, self-care measures should be instituted early on in pregnancy. If varicosities are already present when these measures are instituted, these tricks can help to decrease discomfort. Keeping a consistent exercise routine, such as walking daily, promotes circulation. Keeping weight gain to a minimum is important; excess weight increases the chances of developing varicosities. Keeping the legs elevated when at rest and not sitting or standing for prolonged periods may be helpful. Sleeping on the left side may be very beneficial; the inferior vena cava is on the right side of the body. If you’re sleeping on the left side of the body, this decreases the weight of the uterus on the vessel.
Wearing support hose during pregnancy may be the single most important tactic to prevent varicose veins. They are tight stockings that that prevent swelling and promote circulation. They should be put on first thing in the morning, and it may be easiest if they are put on first thing in the morning, while still lying down. They are available from most pharmacies and may be covered by health insurance if purchased from a medical supply store.
Varicose veins during pregnancy may be troublesome. Fortunately, there is plenty that can be done to prevent them and to reduce symptoms. In addition, they often go away on their own after the baby is born.