Most of us are familiar with varicose veins - those unsightly, swollen veins that usually appear on the legs and ankles. Many women can find themselves experiencing varicose veins during a pregnancy. While they will generally appear on the leg area, they can also happen in the vulva or vaginal area.
Veins play an important role in getting blood from extremities back to the heart. The veins in your legs are actually working against gravity when working to get that blood back to the heart. Varicose veins appear when the valve in the vein becomes weakened or damaged, causing the blood to flow backward and pool. This pooling is what causes the enlarged veins that can have a blue or purple color.
During pregnancy, the amount of blood increases, which adds an additional burden on these veins. Additionally, your progesterone levels rise and can cause the walls of your blood vessels to relax. Also, many women experience weight gain during pregnancy, which adds to the pressure on the veins. All of these factors can contribute to the appearance or worsening of varicose veins during pregnancy.
As we stated, varicose veins are common in the legs, but can appear in the vulva. This is because of the weight gain and fluid retention that occurs during a pregnancy. In addition, the baby can compress or add pressure to the abdomen, leading to enlarged veins.
Symptoms of varicose veins, in addition to the unsightly appearance, can include swelling, itching and burning sensations. You may also experience a heavy feeling in your legs, as well as general fatigue.
Preventing Varicose Veins during Pregnancy
Often you can avoid varicose veins during pregnancy or minimize their appearance. Here are a few things you can do:
Treatment of Varicose Veins during Pregnancy
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Elevate your legs when possible, and don't cross your legs or ankles
- Avoiding sitting or standing for long periods
- Wear compression stockings throughout pregnancy
Traditional methods of treating varicose veins are not recommended during pregnancy. In fact, most cases will subside after the baby is delivered because the pressure on the veins will be reduced. Also, hormonal levels will become more balanced. You can wear compression stockings and elevate the legs during pregnancy to alleviate some of the symptoms.
If the varicose veins do not subside after delivery, you should consult you physician to determine if you need to undergo a procedure such as vein ablation or sclerotherapy.
Dr. Gaurav Goswami is a board certified physician specializing in cosmetic and endovascular procedures. He is founder and owner of Precise Care with locations in Newport Beach, CA and Fullerton, CA. Dr. Goswami's practice focuses on minimally invasive, targeted treatments, which use various forms of imaging for guidance during procedures.