Why Do Some Pregnant Women Get Varicose Veins?

I’m 6 months pregnant and am starting to get weird bluish-purple veins on my legs. What are these and why am I getting them?
- Tyneesha

A common and usually harmless part of pregnancy for some women, varicose veins happen when the uterus applies pressure to the large vein (the inferior vena cava) that carries blood back to the heart from your feet and legs.

Varicose veins can become itchy, uncomfortable, or even painful and are usually found in the legs, genital area, and rectum (hemorrhoids are just a type of varicose veins).

Varicose veins tend to be hereditary — your mother or grandmother may have gotten them during pregnancy, too. So, unfortunately, there's not much you can do to prevent them.

But here are some ways to reduce varicose vein pain and avoid making the veins worse:

  • Take frequent breaks and move around as much as possible if you have to stand or sit for a while.
  • Don't cross your legs when sitting.
  • Elevate your feet frequently.
  • Wear maternity support hose. These special pantyhose gently compress the leg muscles and squeeze the veins to help push the blood back toward the heart. They differ from regular pantyhose because they apply gradual amounts of pressure to the leg, with most compression occurring at the ankle and less further up the leg. It's important to avoid tight socks or knee-highs that squeeze at a particular spot on the leg, as this can cut off circulation.
  • Get daily low-impact exercise if your doctor says it's OK.
  • Sleep on your left side to keep the pressure off of the inferior vena cava, which is on the right side of your body.

If you notice that the veins feel hard, warm or painful, or the skin over them looks red, call your doctor.

Varicose veins often get better after delivery, when the uterus is no longer pushing on the inferior vena cava.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: July 2009

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