Varicose veins in pregnancy

Varicose veins are one of pregnancy's less glamorous side-effects, but they are fairly common. The good news is, they're unlikely to be a permanent fixture

Dr Sophie Kefi from Doctor Care Anywhere offers advice on what you can do to improve things - and when to ask for help.

woman's legs with varicose veins

What are varicose veins?

Put simply, they are veins that have become large and distorted and are visible under the skin. They look like bits of knotted blue cord and have a slightly hard, lumpy feel to them. 
During pregnancy, they mostly turn up in the legs, but if you’re unlucky you can also get them in more delicate spots such as the vulva and vagina, which can be quite painful.

What causes varicose veins in pregnancy?

A number of things, but the main culprit is progesterone, the hormone which softens muscles and tissue in the body, in readiness for your baby being born. Unfortunately, it has the effect of relaxing everything else too, so your blood vessels also relax and swell. 

At the same time, weight on your pelvis from the growing baby, as well as an increase in blood volume in pregnancy, puts pressure on your vena cava (the main blood vessel that collects blood from your lower limbs and pelvic area). This makes it harder for blood to travel back to the heart and has a knock-on effect on all the veins in the lower part of your body, making them function less effectively and consequently, swell up. 

How common are varicose veins in pregnancy?

Pretty common. More than 40 per cent of women will get them at some point during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of varicose veins?

Though they can look unsightly, largely varicose veins are symptomless. However, sometimes you may experience the following:

  • Aching in the area concerned (particularly when they appear in the vulva)
  • Itching and soreness in the affected area
  • Heaviness in the legs
If they are red, painful or hot, seek medical attention at once as this could be thrombelitis, caused by clots. This is rare, though.

Can I do anything to prevent varicose veins?

Only to a degree. There are a few factors that increase your likelihood of getting them:

  • Being overweight
  • Standing for long periods of time
  • Carrying twins or more
  • The number of pregnancies you’ve had
  • Family history
So some risk factors can be decreased - by sitting down regularly or shedding a bit of weight before pregnancy, for example. 

On the other hand, there's not a whole lot you can do to change the fact that you’re pregnant with twins, say, or this is your fourth baby. If your mum or sister has suffered, brace yourself for an invasion of varicosities yourself. 

What can I do to help varicose veins?

  • Put your feet up as much as possible to reduce pressure on your legs (an excellent excuse for sitting down with a long box set, should you need one).
  • Maintain a healthy weight, which again means less pressure on the lower half of your body.
  • Wear class 2 support tights or stockings.
  • Wait it out - they should improve within three months of giving birth.

What Mumsnetters say about varicose veins in pregnancy

"I had vulval varicose veins when pregnant and they looked like purple/bluish worms. They ain’t nice and hurt like hell - but they do go afterwards."

"Get some RAL standard compression stockings (on prescription) - these are the gold standard for maintaining circulation. You can also buy them online but best to get measured up by a HCP as they are expensive to get wrong.  Some of the stockings aren't pretty but they are a medical device and very effective."

"I got what the midwife said was the start of varicose veins in my last pregnancy - they became very hot and painful straight after the birth, but I wore stockings for a couple of weeks and they went right down and are now back to how they were before, a bit enlarged but not too bad."

"My very largest varicose vein (so enormous, I nearly named it) disappeared completely after I gave birth."

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Last updated: 3 months ago