When a fellow mom friend of mine posted a picture of her vicious varicose veins during her third pregnancy, I had to physically turn away from the image. Those things were a sight to see, and I'm almost embarrassed to admit that even though I'm a nurse and have seen a lot of nasty things in my day, varicose veins kind of make my stomach turn a little bit.
Varicose veins are no joke, you guys. "I had cellulitis in the cluster of them at the bend of [my] knee with four superficial blood clots," describes Molly B., a mom of soon-to-be three who has experienced varicose veins with each of her pregnancies. "When the cellulitis and clots set in, I couldn't touch my leg it was so painful."
Molly was restricted from flying and put on medication to treat her blood clots and infection and her doctors have considered bed rest to prevent them from worsening. "Now for the most part the pain isn't bad," she says. "But by the end of the day they throb until I get my leg up. Unfortunately they have traveled all the way up both legs now, and I have vulva varicosities which are not fun or pretty." Molly is hoping that her varicose veins will disappear, as they did after the birth of her second child, but if not, she will be forced to see a vein specialist about stripping them away. Ouch.
Dr. Cristina Perez, an OB/GYN with the Women’s Specialists of Houston at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, explained what pregnant women like Molly need to know about varicose veins.
"Varicose veins are dilated and elongated veins that look like blue bulges," Dr. Perez explains. "They can occur on the legs, vulva and rectum." The unsightly veins are caused by the increased pressure from the uterus on the inferior vena cava blood vessel, which ends up slowing blood flow from the lower body. The blood then pools in the legs, causing those veins to bulge out. Basically, you can think of varicose veins as stretched-out, swollen veins that are just overworked thanks to all the added pressure of your baby.
Varicose veins can run in families, says Dr. Perez. For preggos, that means if your mom, sister, aunt or great-grandma had varicose veins, odds are you will get them too. Bummer for those lady genes. Lots of sitting, standing or even too much weight gain can contribute to their development as well.
"If you notice varicose veins, wear compression stockings, prop your legs up when you are sitting, make sure to not sit with your legs crossed and be sure to stay active," advises Dr. Perez. It's also important to stay hydrated, keep constipation at bay (hello, hemorrhoids) and gain the recommended amount of weight, as too much weight gain can actually cause those varicose veins to worsen.
The good news about varicose veins that develop with pregnancy is that they usually go away after the baby is born. They can disappear as quickly as a few months after delivery or take up to a year to go back to normal. Some women, however, will develop varicose veins that are more serious and may even require surgery someday down the line to fix.
Varicose veins can be a risk factor for developing venous thromboembolism (deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism), which are blood clots in your legs that can break loose and travel to other parts of the body, like the lungs, where they could even be fatal. "Watch for swelling in one leg more than the other, with an increase in tenderness or redness," cautions Dr. Perez.
And also for more fun news? You can even get varicose veins down there — you know, in your vulva. Ouch. If you're feeling extra swollen and pressure-filled in your nether regions, be sure to check with your doctor, just in case. It's not always normal to be totally miserable during pregnancy.
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