Varicose Veins

What are Varicose veins?

Varicose veins can affect anybody although they are more common for women than men. Varicose veins affects almost a third of all women.

All veins have a valve in them which stop blood from flowing the wrong way through them. If these valves stop working correctly, or if the veins become weakened, this will allow the blood to collect together in one area. This will then cause the vein to stretch, swell and bulge and this will cause varicose veins.

Varicose veins can easily be identified as they are purple or blue veins which are clearly visible on the skin of your body. The most common area affected by varicose veins are the calves of the legs although people can suffer with varicose veins elsewhere too.

Varicose veins can also cause:

  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heavy, achy legs
  • Itchiness around the vein

These symptoms are not usually anything to cause concern although if you are in a lot of pain or discomfort you should ask your doctor for advice.

It is not known why a person may suffer from varicose veins but it is known that the following may affect the chances of getting them:

  • Being female: Female hormones often allow the vein walls to relax more easily than male hormones.
  • In your genes: Research has shown that you are more likely to suffer from varicose veins if a close family member also suffers.
  • Getting older: As you age, the walls of your veins may weaken
  • Being overweight: If you are overweight than it is likely that you are putting extra weight onto your veins which in turn create more pressure and may cause varicose veins.
  • Your lifestyle: Research suggests that people who spend long lengths of time standing may be more prone to varicose veins.
  • Being pregnant: A lot of pregnant women suffer from varicose veins

Why are Varicose Veins more likely during pregnancy?

Many things happen to your body during pregnancy and some of these changes can increase your risk of developing varicose veins.

  • Your blood flow is increased to help your baby to develop and this can put extra strain on your veins.
  • Your hormone levels change during pregnancy and these can also cause or veins to relax which may cause varicose veins.
  • Your baby is causing your womb and uterus to grow and expand and as it does it may put extra pressure on your veins.

Although the legs are the most common area to suffer from varicose veins, it is possible to get them in other areas too. A small number of pregnant women may also suffer from varicose veins in and around their vagina whilst they are pregnant. A large percentage of women suffer from piles during their pregnancy and these are caused by varicose veins in the rectal area.

Can I prevent getting varicose veins?

Unfortunately there is no proven method for preventing varicose veins. However, the following are sensible suggestions to try to reduce the risk of getting them:

  • Do not stand for long periods of time.
  • Ensure you get some gentle exercise often.
  • Try and lie on your left hand side when you sleep
  • When laying down, rest your feet on a pillow
  • Do not cross your legs
  • Put your feet up as often as possible
  • Eat healthily and drink plenty of water
  • Try to avoid putting weight on too quickly
  • Try using maternity support tights or compression stockings

Should I worry about my varicose veins during pregnancy?

Varicose veins are usually nothing to worry about and cause no problems during pregnancy or labour.  However if you are suffering from varicose veins in your perineum (between your vagina and your back passage) you should ensure your midwife knows as they will need to be checked throughout the pushing stages of labour. This is because they can cause your perineum to tear unnecessarily and could cause severe bleeding. You will need to listen to your midwife and follow and guidance or advice that she gives you during labour.

What happens after the birth?

Most varicose veins will fade after child-birth and some may disappear completely. Piles can be easily treated with cream available from a chemist. However, if your varicose veins are very uncomfortable and cause you upset, it is possible to remove them with treatment.  Varicose vein removal is not normally available on the NHS unless they are causing a lot of pain and distress although you should speak to your doctor before making any decisions.


by Jenny, mum to William and James

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