Varicose veins is one of the ‘not-so-great’ undesirable effects of pregnancy that bothers many expecting mothers. Pregnant or not, for some reasons, women are found to be more prone to having varicose veins. Pregnancy will just set off the occurrence of varicose veins. Moreover, if once it appears in a pregnancy, the chances of varicose veins appearing in all the successive pregnancies run quite high. Varicose veins may be nothing more than the looks of the same for some women, but for some they may be accompanied with itching and considerable pain, making a pregnant woman significantly uncomfortable.
What Are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are large swollen veins. They are usually blue or purple in color. They mostly are wrinkled and bulge near the surface of the skin.
Why Do Varicose Veins Appear In Pregnancy?
Veins have valves, which block the blood from flowing backward. The efficiency of these valves becomes more relevant when it comes to the lower body. This is because the veins in the lower body are already working against gravity while taking the blood back to the heart. The valves, along with the elasticity of the vein walls, helps in pumping the blood back to the heart. A varicose vein happens when the valves do not work properly. As the pregnancy progresses, the uterus starts to put pressure on the inferior vena cava, the major blood vessel that takes the blood back toward the heart. Therefore, it will be hard for the blood from the leg to find its way back to the heart. This hinders the flowing of the blood towards the heart. The blood starts to gather in the veins, thereby, weakening the elasticity of its wall. When more blood starts to gather in the area of weakness, the walls of the vein start to stretch and sag. The vein starts to swell and becomes more prominent under the skin.
Varicose veins can show up almost anywhere below the hip. They can even appear in the rectum or vulva. We know the varicose veins that appear in the anus and lower rectum by another name-hemorrhoid. The blood volume increases as the pregnancy progresses. This increased blood volume along with the blocked or decreased blood flow sets off the weakening of the valves and the elasticity of the vein walls in the leg, making a pregnant woman more prone to the formation of varicose veins.
What Are The Symptoms Of Varicose Veins During Pregnancy?
Varicose veins appear with or without pain. Other sign of varicose veins includes:
- Dark purple or blue colored veins that bulge out from the surface of the skin
- Swelling in legs, ankles, or feet
- Experiencing, burning and throbbing and cramps in legs
- Feeling heaviness in the legs
- Pressure or bulge in vulva
- The pain aggravates after sitting or standing continuously for a while
- Feeling itchy around some of the bulged veins
- Red discoloration of the skin around the veins
What Are The Risk Factors That Cause Varicose Veins During Pregnancy?
As we already discussed, women are more prone to the varicose veins. Pregnancy alone is a risk factor to develop this condition. Other risk factors that set off the varicose veins during pregnancy are:
- Age of the mother: Older moms are more prone to the varicose veins as the wall and valves of their veins already might have started to wear and tear
- Genetics: There is a genetic angle to the varicose veins. If this condition prevails in the family of the expecting mother, especially her mother or sister, the chances are more for her to develop varicose veins during pregnancy
- Obesity: If the mother is overweight, she has more chances to develop the varicose veins
- Constipation: Constipation during pregnancy increases the risk of hemorrhoids, the varicose veins in the lower rectum or anus.
- Previous history: if the expecting mother already had a history of the varicose veins prior to pregnancy or in her previous pregnancy, the chances are very high for the reappearing of the varicose veins during pregnancy
- Multiple pregnancies: Carrying twins or more increases the chances of varicose veins, as the bigger uterus tends to press against the inferior vena cava thereby pressurizing the veins
How Can Varicose Veins Be Prevented During Pregnancy?
As you have no control over the genetic and hormonal factors, sadly, there is very little that you can do to avert varicose veins, or to stop them deteriorating. In spite of that, here are some measures that might help to decrease the chances of developing and aggravating varicose veins and help with its symptoms in the course of pregnancy. Even though these measured do not promise no 100% prevention (especially if the expecting mother has a family history of varicose veins), it will definitely help to reduce its severity:
- When you are sitting, you should:
- Elevate the feet and legs (above the level of hip) whenever possible
- Never cross the legs while sitting. This may increase the chances of pooling of blood in the affected veins
- When you are lying down, you should:
- Always lie on the left side. This will reduce the chances of pressing the inferior vena cava (which is on your right side) by the uterus. This will reduce the pressure on the veins that make its way towards your feet and leg
- Keep your feet in an elevated position. Keeping the feet above one or two pillows will help with the blood flow and reduce the discomfort
- Avoid sitting or standing for a long time: Move around frequently and cut back the amount of time of standing. Walking is a good exercise that helps to increase the blood circulation. Therefore, whenever you have to sit or stand for a while (may be your job demands it) takes short breaks and walk a few steps
- Avoid putting on excess weight: Monitor your weight and always keep your weight within recommended range with respect to your phase of pregnancy. Putting on extra weight increases the pressure aggravating the varicose veins
- Do not use heeled shoes: Using flat shoes and chappals put less pressure on the calve muscle, thereby, encourage healthy blood circulation
- Ensure well-balanced pregnancy diet: Follow the pregnancy menu, which helps to keep constipation at bay. Straining on the toilet increases the chances of hemorrhoids, which actually are varicose veins in the rectal region
- Use compression stockings: Using compression stockings will prevent the blood from pooling in the legs, as it gently squeezes pumping the blood and increasing the circulation. This will help to ease the symptoms and progression of varicose veins. Pick the ones that apply more pressure on the lower leg (ankle) which eventually reduce as going up the leg. It is vital to keep away from tight socks or knee-highs that squeeze specific spots on the leg, obstructing the blood circulation
How Can Varicose Veins Be Treated During Pregnancy?
Varicose veins are relatively harmless for a short time. Therefore, it is better to wait until delivery for undergoing the treatment for varicose veins. The preventive measures as explained above will also help you to decrease the discomforts caused by the varicose veins. You can also try the following measures:
- Soak a cotton cloth in apple cider vinegar. Apply it over the problematic veins. This will help to ease the pain
- Spraying cold water on the vein will give you a temporary relief from the pain and heaviness caused by the varicose veins
- Aloe Vera gel may help to ease the throbbing pain of the affected area. Never massage the affected vein directly. Vigorous massage will aggravate the varicose veins
There are different types of treatment available for varicose veins like laser therapy, surgery, radiotherapy etc. The basic aim of the treatment is to close the affected vein and divert the blood flow to other healthy veins. However, the doctors choose to go for these treatments only if the incidence of varicose veins is too severe, hindering with the normal life of the expecting mother.