Varicose Veins! Yuk, I hear you say!
Yep, those annoying bluish swellings on our legs as we get older! Both women and men commonly develop varicose veins (VVs) with ageing. However, women are particularly prone to varicose vein development during pregnancy.
What are varicose veins (VVs)?
VVs occur when the soft walls of normal veins in our legs stretch and become enlarged. This makes them appear more prominent, typically blue in colour, and varied in appearance, or they can be very fine and in large numbers (sometimes called spider veins).
Why do Varicose Veins appear now that I am pregnant?
The answer is to do with hormones in pregnancy and changes in your circulation. Your placenta makes a large amount of a hormone called progesterone. A side effect of this hormone is relaxing smooth muscle fibres. The walls of veins have a thin layer of these muscle fibres. Secondly, your heart is pumping around a larger blood volume than normal (35% greater at the end of pregnancy), at a faster rate than normal. So the veins slowly stretch.
Why am I getting varicose veins, but my other pregnant friends don’t?
Its true, not all women notice VVs in pregnancy. Veins have tiny one-way valves inside them to assist the blood to flow back to the heart. If the veins stretch near these valves, then backpressure builds up, widening the veins, this leads to the VVs. It seems some individuals have weaker valves in vein than others.
Are varicose veins a problem for my pregnancy?
The answer is no. They are not dangerous to your health or your unborn baby’s either. That said, they can be very annoying because a: they look unsightly if they are at the bad end of the spectrum and b: they can actually be uncomfortable. Some women will notice the veins ache or even have a mild burning feeling especially when they get up quickly from a lying or standing position.
Why have a got a blue coloured swelling on my labia (vulva)?
Unfortunately VVs can occur on the labia majora (the large skin folds outside the vagina). When first discovered by the woman, this can be a bit distressing. They can also be uncomfortable when standing for long periods of time and by the end of a long day. The good news is they will not interfere with childbirth, and vulval VVs do disappear completely post-delivery of your baby.
What can I do to relieve the discomfort of varicose veins in pregnancy?
Apart from elevating your legs whenever possible, compression stockings are the mainstay of relieving VV’s if they are causing pain or discomfort. Compression stockings can be purchased at most pharmacies or online. They won’t make the veins go away, but they do stop them hurting if this is the problem. Please don’t be lured into purchasing creams and potions for VVs: they won’t do anything.
Can I get my veins treated after my baby is born?
Yes you can. There are a variety of treatments including laser and surgical treatments depending on the type and severity of VVs. I advise my patients not to undertake formal treatment until they have completed their family. If you have surgery for varicose veins after one pregnancy, then have another baby, recurrence of VVs is likely.