The process of pregnancy provides a woman with the ultimate joy of motherhood but at the same time, it also puts her body through complex physiological changes giving rise to a host of troublesome conditions. Most of us are familiar with the development of oedema during pregnancy. A small percentage of women also tend to develop varicose veins, especially if they are genetically susceptible. There could be an exacerbation of the same if it was present even before conceiving. It could progressively get worse with each successive pregnancy or with age.

What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are gnarled, enlarged veins, most commonly appearing in the legs and feet. They may also be present in the buttocks and vaginal area. Hemorroids are nothing but the presence of such abnormal veins in the rectal region (due to constipation). Veins are the blood vessels which carry blood from the rest of the body to the heart. They have multiple leaflet valves to prevent blood from flowing backwards. Hence the blood flow is directed upwards, against the strong effect of gravity. This is aided by the activity of the leg muscles. In varicose veins, these valves become incompetent, allowing for the backflow and pooling of blood which leads to the enlargement and tortuousity of the veins.

What are the causes of varicose veins during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, there is an increase in the quantity of circulating blood. The enlarging uterus begins to exert pressure on the larger veins (especially the inferior vena cava on the right side of the body). In addition, various hormones are secreted and released into the circulation, one such hormone being progesterone which relaxes the vessel walls. All these factors collectively contribute to the development of varicosity. Being overweight, carrying twins or other multiples, or standing for prolonged intervals of time (perhaps due to occupational demands) can put the woman at a increased risk of developing the condition.

How serious is the condition?
It is generally harmless in the short run. It could cause no other symptoms other than cosmetic disfigurement. Some may experience itching, throbbing or burning sensations. The legs may feel heavy and ache especially at the end of the day. All these cause varying degrees of discomfort to the expecting mother.

The good news, however is that it usually subsides after the delivery of the baby, particularly when the varicosity wasn’t present before and developed only during the course of the pregnancy. It might take anywhere between 3 months to 1 year for this to occur.