For many women, pregnancy is accompanied by varicose veins. But why, and what can you do about it? This article explains everything you need to know.
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are enlarged, swollen veins in the legs, ankles or feet. They are a blue or purple colour and can be lumpy, twisted or bulging in appearance. For some women, the condition can cause unpleasant symptoms such as:
- A deep ache, throbbing sensation or heaviness in the affected leg(s)
- Muscle cramps
- Restless legs
- Dry, itchy or discoloured skin below the affected vein
- Swollen ankles or feet
Click on the article link below to find out more about varicose vein pain:
What causes varicose veins in pregnancy?
Several body changes occur in pregnancy that can contribute to a woman developing varicose veins:
- The uterus grows and puts pressure on a large vein called the inferior vena cava, which increases pressure in the leg veins.
- The amount of blood in the body increases, adding to the burden on veins.
- Progesterone levels increase, which relaxes blood vessel walls.
These changes make it harder for veins to pump blood back up to the heart, causing blood to pool and the pressure within the veins to increase.
Other factors that make it more likely for a woman to develop varicose veins in pregnancy include:
- A family history of varicose veins
- Being overweight
- Standing or sitting for long periods
- Carrying twins or other multiples
You may also develop spider veins (also known as thread veins) in pregnancy. These are tiny blood vessels that sit close to the surface of the skin on your legs or ankles. They are painless but are often associated with underlying varicose veins.
Read Spider Veins in Pregnancy: Causes, Relief and Treatment for further information about this condition.
Is there anything I can do to relieve varicose vein symptoms during pregnancy?
Absolutely. Here are some tried and tested self-help techniques:
- Take Vitamin C – a source of collagen and elastin, which are important for maintaining and repairing veins.
- Avoid sitting (especially with legs crossed) or standing for long periods – try to get your legs moving for a few minutes every 30 minutes.
- Take regular light exercise, such as walking or gentle running, to aid circulation.
- Wear compression stockings – they promote circulation by squeezing the leg veins to help pump blood back up to your heart.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing to reduce the pressure on your waist, groin and legs.
- Elevate your legs with a pillow when lying down to make it easier for your veins to pump blood up to your heart.
- Avoid sleeping on your right side, as this can put undue pressure on the inferior vena cava.
- Eat low-salt foods – they can cause swelling.
- Eat a high-fibre diet to prevent constipation, which can increase your chances of developing spider veins and varicose veins.
- Drink plenty of water – dehydration causes tissues to swell and the muscles to cramp.
- Maintain a healthy weight to minimise the stress on your lower body.
Some techniques will provide more relief than others; it’s different for everyone.
Do varicose veins disappear after giving birth?
In some cases, yes, varicose veins can improve or disappear completely in the three to four months after giving birth. This is more likely to happen if you didn’t have the condition before becoming pregnant or if it’s your first pregnancy. If your symptoms persist, you may wish to consult a venous specialist to discuss treatment.
What are my treatment options post-pregnancy?
There are several non-surgical walk-in-walk-out procedures available for varicose veins, but there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. The best approach for you will depend on your diagnosis, medical history, and circumstances and preferences.
Click on the article link below to find out more about the best varicose vein treatment options:
Where should I get treatment?
While many private hospitals and clinics offer varicose vein treatments, not all use consultants that are specially trained in the diagnosis, treatment and management of varicose veins. Always check the consultants’ credentials to ensure that you’ll be offered the most suitable procedure for your situation.
Can I get varicose vein treatment on the NHS?
Not in most cases. You may qualify for free NHS treatment if you are experiencing severe complications.