Varicose veins are swollen veins that may bulge near the surface of the skin especially in the legs or other sites such as elsewhere. Veins are the blood vessels that return blood from the legs to the heart. Many women first develop varicose veins in pregnancy. For those with pre-existing varicose veins they tend to get worse during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is a major risk factor for development of varicose veins. During pregnancy blood volume increases significantly and this distends the veins. In addition during pregnancy progesterone levels are markedly increased. Progesterone is a pregnancy hormone which relaxes blood veins and keeps them dilated causing blood to pool in the legs. Also as the uterus grows, it puts pressure on the large vein on the back called inferior venacava. Compression of this vein in turn increases pressure in the leg veins.

Varicose veins are usually symptom free. At times legs may feel heavy, have some pain and may itch. Usually varicose veins do not pose any serious threat during pregnancy.

Treatment of varicose veins during pregnancy is mainly conservative. Conservative treatment involves use of compression (elastic) stockings, regular exercises, elevation of legs at night and during rest periods in the day and weight control. Compression stockings are designed to squeeze the leg muscles, encouraging blood to flow upwards towards the heart. Surgery should be done only for the very severe cases where conservative measures have failed. Varicose veins usually improve after child birth.

Development of varicose veins in pregnancy can be prevented in the following ways: regular exercises which increase circulation of blood. Exercises duration of atleast 30 minutes are recommended daily. It’s also important to avoid too much weight gain during pregnancy. It’s advisable to take frequents breaks to sit after standing for long period of times and vice versa. Crossing of legs while one is pregnant is not recommended. Sleeping on the left improves blood return back to the heart and this reduces pressure on the veins in the legs.

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