Picture your favourite jersey –one that’s been over-washed and is out of shape. That’s what a varicose vein looks like: overstretched and shapeless. These veins are bigger than they should be and still have to fit into their same spot. That’s why they look blue, swollen and wriggly under the skin.
Hormones can’t be blamed for this problem – it’s mostly genetics, increased blood flow and pressure. Varicose veins can pop up in three places: the legs, the rectum (haemorrhoids) and the vulva.
Veins take blood back to the heart. Their walls are thinner with less muscular tissue than arteries. They also have tiny valves that keep the blood flowing in one direction, despite gravity. If these valves don’t work properly, the pressure inside the veins increases, causing blood pooling or overfill, stretching the vein so that in time it becomes swollen.
Pelvic congestion in late pregnancy increases pressure on veins in this area – namely the anus and the vulva– which can lead to uncomfortable and painful haemorrhoids or vulvar varicose veins. Haemorrhoids are varicose veins around the anus that many pregnant women don’t realise they have until after the birth. These are painful, itchy and can bleed when you are constipated. Haemorrhoids can feel like small peas or bunches of grapes, depending on how big they are.
Dealing with varicose veins and haemorrhoids:
- Start walking every day early in your pregnancy, and keep it up for as long as you can.
- Wear flat shoes and don’t cross your legs when you sit.
- Massage your legs.
- Try not to stand for too long.
- Spend some time during the day with your feet up higher than your body.
- Reduce salt and empty calories.
- Wear loose clothing – avoid tight jeans.
- If you need to wear elasticated stockings, roll them on from your feet upwards when lying on your back with your legs in the air.
- Drink lots of water and eat fresh fruit and vegetables to avoid constipation.
- Soften hard stools with stool softener if recommended by your doctor.
- Keep the area clean – sit in a bowl of warm water after using the toilet.
- Ask your pharmacist for a cream to relieve pain and itching.
- Use cream recommended by your healthcare provider to clean and lubricate the haemorrhoids before gently pushing them in.
- A ‘ring cushion’ can be useful.
- Use baby wipes instead of toilet paper.