Pregnancy: Varicose Veins

Topic Overview

Varicose veins are enlarged, swollen veins that are caused by faulty valves in the veins or weak vein walls. They are common during pregnancy, particularly in women with a family history of the problem.

Varicose veins typically develop on the legs but can also affect the vulva. Though varicose veins are often only a cosmetic concern, they can become painful. In severe cases, they can bleed.

During pregnancy, the growing uterus puts more pressure on the veins that return blood from the legs, and it becomes harder for blood to leave the legs. (The extra weight of multiple fetuses puts an even greater burden on the deep veins in the legs.) This can lead to pooled blood that causes one or more veins to swell.

If you or other women in your family have had varicose veins, use preventive and treatment measures that are safe during pregnancy.

  • Avoid prolonged standing and sitting.
  • Lie on your side as much as possible. This takes the pressure off your leg veins, allowing normal blood flow.
  • Elevate your legs whenever possible. Gravity helps with blood return from your legs.
  • Wear compression stockings. Specially fitted compression stockings are designed to help prevent blood from pooling in the legs.
  • Get regular exercise to improve your blood circulation.

Only in severe cases are varicose veins treated with surgery or injected medicine during pregnancy.

After pregnancy, varicose veins do not always return to their previous size.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David A. Szalay, MD - Vascular Surgery
Last Revised February 1, 2012

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