They’re a common pregnancy annoyance, but there are ways to prevent them in some cases.
Varicose veins and haemorrhoids may affect different parts of the body, though they’re both caused by the same problems. Swollen, distended veins form either in the legs where they’re called varicose veins, or the rectum, where they’re called haemorrhoids.
Some women develop varicose veins in their vulva during pregnancy. Wherever they are, varicose veins are painful and can ache, especially towards the end of the day and after standing up for long periods of time.
Varicose veins and haemorrhoids tend to be more common in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Though some women who’ve been pregnant before and had vein issues will experience symptoms earlier than women having their first baby.
Varicose veins are more common during pregnancy. Image source: iStock
What causes varicose veins?
When they’re working as they should, veins have a one-way valve, which stops the blood flowing back. When these valves don’t work effectively, blood pools and backs up in the veins. This causes them to swell and become distended. Varicose veins look like dark blue lumps on the legs.
Haemorrhoids affect the rectum and unless they’re protruding out of the anus, it’s difficult to see them. Some women already have haemorrhoids before they become pregnant, though may not have had any symptoms. Haemorrhoids are fairly common – around 25-35 percent of pregnant women will be affected by them. And around 8-20 per cent of pregnant women develop varicose veins during pregnancy and the risk increases with each pregnancy.
Why are varicose veins worse in pregnancy?
There are many physical changes to a woman’s body during pregnancy, not all of them related to the growing baby. Increased blood volume and weight, hormonal changes, especially high levels of progesterone and the weight of the baby sitting in a mother’s uterus all add to the risk of varicose veins forming.
Some women are more prone to varicose veins due to genetics, e.g. if your mother and grandmother had them, you’re more likely to develop varicose veins as well.
Treatment for varicose veins and haemorrhoids during pregnancy
Treatment is generally based around relieving the symptoms and pain. Some women need surgery to ‘strip’ their veins if they still have problems after their baby is born. Some varicose veins are also successfully treated by injection with a sclerosing agent, which collapses the veins but this generally doesn’t work for very big, distended veins. Haemorrhoids can be banded using a special type of rubber band or removed surgically. For most women, there’s a significant improvement in their varicose veins and/or haemorrhoid symptoms once their baby is born.
- Creams can help relieve the itch and pain of haemorrhoids. These contain anti-inflammatory and analgesic compounds to help reduce the size of the haemorrhoid and numb discomfort. Suppositories can also be effective though some women are challenged by inserting a suppository into their rectum.
- Generally, it’s helpful to take medication or dietary supplements, which help to soften the poo and bulk up fibre intake in the diet.
- Baths can be soothing, so can ice packs or cold packs held against the haemorrhoids. Lying down with a cold compress against the anal area can be helpful.
- Speak with your maternity care provider and/or pharmacist about analgesics that are safe to take during pregnancy.
- Try to sit and elevate your legs whenever you can.
- Investigate pregnancy aqua aerobics or other pool related exercise. Many pregnant women find swimming is a good way to exercise without standing and still use their leg muscles.
The structure of varicose veins. Image source: iStock
5 top tips to help prevent getting varicose veins in pregnancy
The general understanding is that if a woman is going to get varicose veins, there’s not much that can prevent them. However, a few things can help:
- Monitor your weight gain during pregnancy. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor. Use your pre-pregnancy Body Mass Index (BMI) as a guide for (your individual) healthy weight gain in pregnancy.
- Avoid sitting or standing in one position for long periods of time. Move around; use the muscles in your legs to help blood flow return to your heart.
- Avoid wearing tight, restrictive clothing, especially around your legs, tummy and waist. Some women find wearing support or compression stockings very helpful.
- Keep your legs and feet elevated when you’re sitting down. Have a foot stool handy where you sit to watch TV so you’re reminded to prop your feet up.
- Don’t cross your legs, or sit on your legs or your feet.
5 top tips to help prevent getting haemorrhoids in pregnancy
- Avoid getting constipated. Eat a diet high in fibre and roughage with fresh fruit and vegetables. Drink plenty of water as well.
- Avoid sitting on the toilet and straining when you’re doing a poo.
- Monitor your intake of refined, high carbohydrate “white” foods, e.g. white bread and flour.
- Don’t ‘hang on’ if you need to go to the toilet and poo. This can lead to increased rectal pressure and constipation.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects. This increases intra-abdominal pressure which adds to the risk of haemorrhoids.
Speak with your maternity care provider if you have varicose veins and/or haemorrhoids.
Jane Barry has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 30 years specialist experience in child health nursing. She is a member of a number of professionally affiliated organisations including AHPRA, The Australasian Medical Writer’s Association, Health Writer Hub and Australian College of Children and Young People’s Nurses.
This article was first published in KidSpot and republished on theAsianparent with permission.
ALSO READ: varicose veins in pregnancy
Radio DJ Lin Pei Fen on Her Pregnancy: ‘It’s ok to not be social-media-pretty’
Pre and Post-Pregnancy Skincare – Tips for Your Best Skin Yet
Treatment for Yeast Infection in Women