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Varicose Veins During Pregnancy

Veins are the blood vessels that return blood from your extremities to your heart. Varicose veins are those tiny, squiggly, blue or purple veins that show up on your legs near the surface of your skin. Many men and women experience them as they age, especially if they’ve spent their lives working jobs that require them to stand or walk a lot. Many pregnant women experience varicose veins all over their bodies, including in their rectums (hemorrhoids are varicose veins in the rectal area).

Every woman is different. Some women say their varicose veins only bother them because of their appearance, while other say the veins make them feel achy and heavy. Some women say the skin surrounding the varicose veins itches, throbs, or burns.

What Causes Varicose Veins?

There is an extremely large vein on the right side of everyone’s body, regardless of whether you are a man or woman, called the inferior vena cava. When a woman becomes pregnant, the growing uterus applies pressure to this vein, which leads to an increase in pressure in the leg veins. The amount of blood in the body increases significantly in pregnant women, which only adds to the load on your veins. As with many other pregnancy symptoms, progesterone can be the culprit, as it causes the walls of blood vessels to relax.

Another culprit can be heredity. Varicose veins are more common in women than men, and if you have older family members who have noticeable varicose veins, chances are you’re going to have to deal with them sooner or later. The good news is that for many pregnant women, the varicose veins become less prominent after childbirth. If you are overweight, carrying twins or multiples, or spend the majority of your day standing, you are more susceptible than other pregnant women.

Occasionally pregnant women who have varicose veins develop small blood clots near the skin’s surface. This condition is known as superficial venous thrombosis, and it can make the veins feel hard and cause symptoms such as redness, heat, tenderness, and pain. Although this condition is generally not a serious problem, it’s important you talk with your healthcare provider about the issue. If you’re experiencing fever or chills, you may need to be treated with antibiotics.

Deep venous thrombosis, or DVT, is often confused with superficial venous thrombosis. This condition is characterized by blood clots that are found in deep veins, not in varicose veins, which tend to be close to the surface of the skin. Pregnancy does make women more susceptible to DVT, but it’s not very common.

Preventing Varicose Veins

For most women there are steps you can take to decrease your chances of getting varicose veins. Exercising daily, such as by taking a walk, can improve the circulation in your legs. If your life consists of plenty of walking or standing, elevating your legs as often as possible can help reduce pressure on your legs.

Since the inferior vena cava is on your right side, lying on your left side or placing a pillow behind you so you tilt toward your left side can reduce the pressure on the large vein, legs, and feet.

Ever heard of graduated-compression stockings? These are prescription-strength support hose that are usually found in medical supply stores or pharmacies. The hose is twice as thick as normal stockings, so they help prevent swelling and keep varicose veins from worsening. They are tight at the ankle and looser farther up the leg, allowing blood to flow back to your heart more easily.

Treating Varicose Veins

If you’re pregnant, varicose veins may be unavoidable, so it’s important to know that the veins tend to disappear within a few months after childbirth. Wearing support hose after childbirth can help the process along, as can exercise and avoiding long periods of standing or sitting. If the veins have not gone away after a few months, ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a specialist who deals with the removal of varicose veins.

[Page updated January 2015]