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Varicose veins

4-minute read

Having swollen legs, with twisting, bulging veins is a normal, but uncomfortable, part of pregnancy. Usually, varicose veins all go away by the time your baby is aged one. And there are ways to ease the discomfort.

Why do varicose veins occur?

Healthy leg veins have one-way valves to help the blood flow back to the heart. When you walk, your calf muscles pump the blood up towards your heart, and the valves stop it falling back.

Varicose veins develop when these one-way valves don't work properly. This causes the blood to pool in the veins, which stretches the vein walls and causes the veins to swell, twist and bulge. If they become large enough, you can see them under your skin.

Why are they common during pregnancy?

Pregnancy increases your chances of developing varicose veins for 3 main reasons.

  • Throughout pregnancy, you produce more blood than usual to help your baby grow.
  • As the baby grows, your uterus presses on and partially blocks the veins that are returning blood from your legs to your heart.
  • Your pregnancy hormones make the walls of your veins softer, which makes it harder for them to work properly.

In each case, blood tends to pool in your legs, giving you swollen legs and varicose veins.

Where can you get varicose veins?

Varicose veins mainly develop in the legs. However, you can also get them in the vulva (at the vaginal opening) or rectum. Varicose veins of the rectum are also known as haemorrhoids.

Are they painful and do they cause any other health problems?

Varicose veins can cause fairly bad aches and pains in your legs. Your legs might feel heavy or restless, and they might throb, burn or cramp. Some women find varicose veins give them no problems, but that's not common.

You'll probably find that any symptoms you have are worse later in the day since you've been standing for longer. By the next morning, you'll usually feel better because you've been lying down and the pressure on your veins has eased.

Can anything be done to prevent them?

Walking or swimming help your circulation generally and are beneficial while pregnant. Specific exercises like calf raises and walking on the spot are good for helping blood flow in the legs.

There's no sure way to prevent varicose veins when you're pregnant. However, they might be less likely to develop if you:

  • stay active
  • don't sit for too long
  • stop wearing high heels, if you currently wear them
  • put your legs up, higher than your hips if possible, when you are resting or sitting
  • avoid wearing anything too tight around your waist or pelvis

Can you get rid of varicose veins?

If you do develop varicose veins, they will probably go away without treatment by the time your baby is 3 to 4 months old. But for some women, this can take up to a year.

In the meantime, you could try wearing compression stockings or elevating your legs when the veins are uncomfortable. There are no medications or other treatments that have been shown to help short of surgery.

Some people do choose to have surgery to remove the affected vein or veins, but if you’re thinking about this, wait until at least 1 year after the birth of your baby to see whether the varicose veins go away without treatment.

Talk to your doctor or midwife if you are worried about varicose veins. They can give you more information and help you find the best way to relieve any symptoms you're experiencing.

What's the difference between stretch marks and varicose veins?

Stretch marks are thin pink or purple lines on the surface of the skin. You'll usually see them pop up on your stomach as your pregnancy progresses since they are formed when the skin stretches. Varicose veins are different because it is the veins that are affected, not the skin.

Living with varicose veins

If you have varicose veins, you can make your legs more comfortable by:

  • walking or swimming regularly
  • watching your weight
  • changing positions if you stand or sit for long periods of time
  • sitting with your legs up as often as you can
  • wearing support tights or stockings - available from most pharmacies, these help circulation in the legs and might also support your leg muscles

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2020


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Need more information?

Sclerotherapy - MyDr.com.au

Sclerotherapy is a treatment that involves the injection of a chemical solution into blood vessels, usually spider veins or superficial (surface) varicose veins on the legs.

Read more on myDr website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Leg Veins

Abnormal veins accumulate too much blood and eventually bulge out as ‘varicose’ veins. Excess blood is forced back into capillaries which enlarge to form ‘spider veins’. Leg Veins

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Varicose veins and spider veins - Better Health Channel

Smaller varicose veins are usually treated by sclerotherapy ? the injection of irritant chemicals into the affected vein.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Varicose veins - MyDr.com.au

When veins become visibly twisted and swollen, they are called varicose veins. They usually occur in the legs and can cause aching legs and skin irritation. Spider veins are a smaller, milder type of varicose veins.

Read more on myDr website

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