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Varicose Veins During Pregnancy: Tips for Prevention, Signs and Symptoms

Varicose veins are a very common condition to experience during pregnancy. They actually occur in up to half of all pregnancies, and their appearance tends to increase with each subsequent pregnancy. Studies have shown that 70-80% of women who develop varicose veins during pregnancy develop symptoms during their first trimester. Enlarged veins tend to appear when the uterus increases pressure on the inferior vena cava, which transfers blood from the feet and legs back to the heart. Varicose veins are a common hereditary condition but they may also occur when changes in hormones, such as an increase in progestin levels, weaken vein walls.

Typically, varicose veins are blueish-purple in color, and commonly found in the leg area; however, they can also occur near the buttocks and vaginal region during pregnancy. They usually have a raised texture and appear in a large, twisted pattern.

Causes and Preventative Measures

Varicose veins are mainly harmless, and considered to be cosmetic more than anything else. However, in some cases they may cause discomfort, pain and bleeding. They can also cause minor swelling in the ankles and feet, or aching and throbbing in the legs. Varicose veins are linked to an influx of pregnancy changes, such as:

  • An increase in blood volume, enlarging the veins;

  • The baby’s weight, which puts extra pressure on the large blood vessels;

  • Hormonal changes in connection with blood vessels, which decrease the flow of blood to the heart, causing the smaller veins in the pelvis and legs to swell up.

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Sitting or standing in the same position over a long period of time also causes the veins to work harder to maintain a steady flow to the heart. This results in swollen varicose veins, which can aggravate existing hemorrhoids. Although there are no surefire methods to prevent varicose veins, there are several preventative measures that you can take to lessen their development or at least to help keep them under control.

Tips for managing and preventing varicose veins

Maintain Regular Light Exercise: During pregnancy, it's very common to feel tired. A growing belly can cause a decrease in energy; however, daily exercise is important for blood circulation, both for you and the baby. This is key in managing varicose veins. Moving around helps the muscles to pump the blood from your legs. Taking a walk or swimming are both very beneficial for blood circulation.

Stay Within Your Practitioners Recommended Weight: Staying within the weight that your obstetrician recommends is one way to control varicose veins. Extra weight can place more pressure on your veins, putting a higher demand on your circulatory system.

Get Your Daily Vitamin Intake: Healthy veins and a balanced diet go hand in hand during pregnancy. Foods with Vitamin C can help your body to produce collagen and elastin, which both play a functioning role in blood vessels.

Stay Comfortable: Wearing comfortable clothes, down to your undergarments, is important in preventing varicose veins. You should try to stay away from improperly-fitting or tight clothing, as this can impede blood flow.

Sleep On Your Left Side: Sleeping on your left side alleviates the pressure on your main blood vessels, and keeps blood circulating throughout your body.

Avoid Standing and Sitting in the Same Position for a Long Period of Time: If you have a sedentary job, be sure to take several breaks to keep the blood flowing in your legs. Sleeping with your legs raised on pillows can help the blood to flow from your legs, as well. Being mindful of sitting with your legs crossed and flexing your ankles once in a while can also help to prevent varicose veins.

Avoid Strenuous Activities: Lifting heavy items or straining your muscles on the toilet can add to varicose veins and irritate hemorrhoids, which are just varicose veins in the rectum.

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So what does this all mean?

There is no scientific method to avoid pregnancy varicose veins, only tips that can help to prevent or manage them. You may find varicose veins unappealing or itchy, but they are very unlikely to pose a threat to you or your baby. On the bright side, they usually subside and shrink within a few months to a year after delivering your baby. It's important to remember that – similar to stretch marks – varicose veins are typically hereditary, and you're more likely to have to them if your parent or grandparent did. You're also more likely to experience varicose veins if you have more than one pregnancy. 

If varicose veins appear during your pregnancy, you should make sure that your health care provider is aware, in case they're linked to any other conditions. In extreme cases, varicose veins can be medically treated or surgically removed after the baby has been delivered.