Varicose veins in pregnancy: Signs, symptoms and treatments
What are they?
Varicose veins, most likely to appear during the third trimester, are common during pregnancy because of various changes occurring within your body.
As ever, hormones play a starring role. Increased levels of progesterone encourage not only your joints and muscles to become more relaxed (in preparation for labour), but also the walls of your veins – the result is that they can become swollen, sore and unsightly, being raised from the skin and blue or sometimes dark purple.
The hormonal changes can affect blood vessels too, and it's common for pregnant ladies to see spider veins, thread veins and broken veins appearing later on in pregnancy.
Another major cause of varicose veins is the much increased volume of blood circulating your body – you might have up to 50% more red stuff, working hard to take valuable nutrients to the placenta and your baby. But that, naturally, puts more pressure on your circulatory system.
What's more, as your baby grows, your ballooning uterus puts pressure specifically on the veins in your pelvic area which, in turn, make the inferior vena cava (an important artery on the right side of your body) work even harder to send the blood north, back to your heart.
The symptoms of varicose veins are not very pleasant. Your legs will feel heavy and achey; sometimes the skin over the veins can feel itchy; or the veins themselves can feel very tender and sore.
Some women are more at risk: those who have a family history are more likely to experience them, as are those who have been pregnant before (the risk increases with each gestation), and women who gain weight quickly during pregnancy (so try to eat healthily!)
If it's not bad enough that so many pregnant women get varicose veins on their legs, some (only around 4% happily) also find them appearing in their nether regions – on the vulva and labia, and inside the vagina (if you're already crossing your legs, do read on for ideas about what might help).
The good news is, most mums are free of their varicose veins three or four months after their baby arrives.
What can I do?
You're going to love this: put your feet up! Yes, it's really true.
When pregnant, especially in the latter stages, you shouldn't stay on your feet for long periods. Resting and taking the pressure off your legs is one of the best things you can do to either prevent, or soothe, varicose veins.
That said, you shouldn't sit in the same position for long periods of time either (if you work in an office, get up at least once an hour and go for a quick stroll), and do try to avoid crossing your legs.
If you have started noticing varicose veins appearing, it's not a bad idea to wear maternity support tights, which you should be able to find in most major pharmacies. They might not be sexy, but they'll help.
It can be very hard, when heavily pregnant, to find a comfortable position in which to sleep, but try to lie on your left side, as that will ease the pressure on the inferior vena cava.
Usually, although uncomfortable, varicose veins do not pose any serious threat – but as with all changes during pregnancy, you should keep an eye on them.
Very rarely, the veins can become hard and red and this might be a sign of a clot (thrombophlebitis). If you notice this, on your legs or elsewhere, see a doctor as soon as possible.
If you have developed varicose veins in or around your vagina, you will probably still be able to attempt a vaginal delivery, but your midwife will keep a close eye on what happens down there.
In most cases, your varicose veins will go away of their own accord once you have had your baby. If they have not disappeared after three or four months, you might want to visit your GP to discuss treating them. Usually, though, surgery for varicose veins will not be offered on the NHS unless they are causing you a notable amount of discomfort.
The British Varicose Veins Centre website has lots of information about changes to your veins during pregnancy, and varicose veins generally, and is able to offer advice to those seeking (private) treatment (including for pregnancy-related veins).