Varicose Veins from Your Pregnancy

By Joanne Stone, Keith Eddleman, Mary Duenwald

You may notice that a small road map has suddenly appeared on your lower legs (and sometimes the vulvar area). These marks are dilated veins, referred to as varicose veins. The pressure of the uterus on major blood vessels — the inferior vena cava (the vein that returns blood to the heart) and the pelvic veins, in particular — causes them.

Pregnancy also causes the muscle tissue inside your veins to relax and your blood volume to increase, and these conditions add to the problem. Women with light skin or with a family history of varicose veins are particularly susceptible.

Very often, the bluish-purple highways fade after delivery, but sometimes they don’t disappear completely. They’re most often painless, but occasionally they may be associated with discomfort, achiness, or pain.

In rare instances, a blood clot develops in the superficial veins of the legs. This condition, called superficial thrombophlebitis, isn’t a serious problem; it’s often successfully treated with rest, leg elevation, warm compresses, and special stockings. A clot that forms in the deep veins of the leg is more serious.

You can’t prevent varicose veins — you can’t fight heredity — but you can reduce their number and severity by following these tips:

  • Avoid standing for prolonged periods of time.

  • Avoid wearing clothes that are very tight around one part of your leg, like socks with tight elastic; which has a tourniquet-like effect.

  • If you must be relatively stationary, move your legs around from time to time to stimulate circulation.

  • Keep your legs elevated whenever you can.

  • Wear support stockings or talk to your doctor about a prescription for special elastic stockings.