Varicose veins are a well known complication of pregnancy and it can often be the first time women develop the condition. If they occur, it will usually be in the last three months of pregnancy.
They arise because the veins that normally drain up to the heart through the pelvis are under increased pressure from the growing womb. The valves which stop the back flow of blood can’t cope with the extra pressure, thus blood pools in the veins in the legs and they appear as a swelling in the skin. Pregnancy also increases female hormones such as progesterone that cause vessels to relax and this can be a contributing factor.
Initially, varicose veins may appear as small spider veins, thread veins or broken veins, but get bigger and swollen in time. For many, the only symptom is the appearance and often they will resolve after pregnancy. Larger varicose veins can become painful and tender, causing the legs to feel heavy and tired towards the end of the day. In extreme cases, the veins may clot and harden, which is a condition called thrombophlebitis.
Being overweight, standing for long periods of time or having multiple pregnancies, or a family history of varicose veins, all make you more susceptible. There are several techniques to relieve discomfort. Elevate your legs as much as possible and rest to reduce the pooling of blood in the legs. Compression stockings (like flight stockings) will stop varicose veins swelling and reduce the risk of more occurring.
If the pain is very bad, take painkillers such as paracetamol. However, seek medical advice if the veins are hard or sore to touch.