Varicose Veins While Pregnant

Overview

What are pregnancy varicose veins?

The term varicose comes from the Latin word “varix,” which means twisted. Varicose veins look like winding, lumpy ropes under your skin. They are relatively common during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester.

The most common locations for varicose veins during pregnancy are the legs, ankles and external genital area (vulva). Hemorrhoids, which are varicose veins that occur in your rectum or around your anus, are also common during pregnancy.

Spider veins can occur along with varicose veins. These are fine blue or red lines that you can see through your skin but are not lumpy.

How do varicose veins develop?

Veins are part of your circulatory system and carry blood from your body to your heart. Valves inside your veins help keep blood flowing in the right direction.

If the walls and valves of your veins become weak, blood can back up and form pools in your veins. These areas can swell and raise up from the surface of your skin.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of pregnancy varicose veins?

You may not experience any symptoms. If you do, you may find that they are worse when you sitting or standing for a long time.

Symptoms include:

  • Heavy feeling in your legs.
  • Itching around the veins.
  • Leg cramps.
  • Pain, aching, throbbing or tenderness in your lower legs.
  • Swelling (edema) in the legs and ankles.

Hemorrhoids can also cause pain and itching. Straining during a bowel movement and wiping can cause them to bleed. You may notice bright red blood on toilet tissue when this happens.

What causes varicose veins while pregnant?

During pregnancy, hormone changes and the weight of your growing baby make you more susceptible to varicose veins. This is due to:

  • Higher levels of the hormone, progesterone, which relaxes blood vessel walls and decreases valve function.
  • Increased volume of blood in your body.
  • Pressure from your baby on the blood vessels in your pelvis which can change blood flow in your pelvic region and legs.

All of these forces make it more difficult for blood to travel against gravity from your legs to your heart.

Constipation is also common in pregnancy and can cause hemorrhoids.

What are the risk factors for pregnancy varicose veins?

Other factors may increase your risk of developing varicose veins during pregnancy. These include:

  • Diet: Too much sodium or not enough fiber or water can make you retain water and increase your risk of varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
  • Genetics: You may be more likely to develop varicose veins during pregnancy if your mother or grandmother also had them.
  • Weight: Varicose veins are more common if you are carrying excess weight.

Diagnosis and Tests

How are pregnancy varicose veins diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your legs, genitals and rectal area, depending on your symptoms.

If your symptoms are severe, your provider may recommend a Doppler ultrasound to measure blood flow in your surface and deep veins. Varicose veins can be associated with an increased risk of a blood clot in a deep vein (deep vein thrombosis). This condition can lead to serious complications, including a pulmonary embolism.

Management and Treatment

How are varicose veins treated during pregnancy?

Since varicose veins are usually harmless and get better after you have your baby, healthcare providers usually don’t treat them.

Still, you can take steps that can help relieve your symptoms or prevent them from getting worse:

  • Avoid standing or sitting in one place for a long period of time to help keep blood moving.
  • Exercise regularly (make sure to check with your provider first to make sure exercise is safe for you during pregnancy).
  • Limit the amount of sodium in your diet, which can cause swelling.
  • Raise your feet from time to time to help blood flow back to your heart.
  • Sleep on your left side to keep pressure off your inferior vena cava. This is the large vein that carries blood from your legs to your heart.
  • Uncross your legs when you sit to improve circulation.
  • Wear supportive pantyhose, tights or socks to prevent blood from pooling in your legs. These are also called compression stockings.

If your varicose veins don’t go away on their own after childbirth, you can talk to your provider about treatment options. These can include sclerotherapy, laser therapy and surgery.

How are hemorrhoids treated during pregnancy?

Similarly, hemorrhoids are usually harmless and may get better after you have your baby.

To relieve the discomfort of your hemorrhoids, you can:

  • Apply ice packs or cold compresses.
  • Ask your provider about stool softeners or rectal creams that are safe to use during pregnancy.
  • Make sure you are getting enough water and fiber to prevent constipation.
  • Sit in a warm, shallow bath (also called a sitz bath) for 10 to 20 minutes several times a day.

Prevention

How can I prevent varicose veins while pregnant?

If you are pregnant, you can help prevent varicose veins by improving blood circulation. For example:

  • Change your position to avoid long periods of sitting or standing.
  • Don’t sit with your legs crossed.
  • Put your feet up several times a day.
  • Sleep on your left side.
  • Wear maternity pantyhose or compression socks.

Outlook / Prognosis

Do varicose veins go away after pregnancy?

Yes, they are usually temporary and shrink after your baby is born. However, if you have multiple children, they may get worse with each pregnancy or be less likely to go away.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Most of the time, varicose veins are not serious. Signs that you should call your provider include:

  • Bleeding from the vein.
  • Open sore (ulcer) on the skin near the varicose vein.
  • Pain, swelling and redness in your leg, which could be signs of a blood clot.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Varicose veins are common during pregnancy and usually not harmful to you or your baby. They are one of the ways your body responds to the growing baby inside you. Rest assured, they will likely go away after childbirth. If you are experiencing discomfort or other symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider. Your provider can help you manage your symptoms as you await the arrival of your baby.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/25/2022.

References

  • American Pregnancy Association. Treat Varicose Veins Naturally During Pregnancy. (https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/treat-varicose-veins-naturally-during-pregnancy/) Accessed 5/25/2022.
  • Antani M, Dattilo JB. Varicose Veins. (https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/30987) [Updated 2021 Aug 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Accessed 5/25/2022.
  • Patient. Varicose Veins. (https://patient.info/doctor/varicose-veins-pro) Accessed 5/25/2022.

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