Varicose veins are swollen and enlarged veins. They are usually found in your legs and feet. They are often blue or purple and twisty in appearance.
During pregnancy you can also get varicose veins in your vulva.
What is your vulva
Your vulva is the part of your genitals on the outside. It includes the labia, clitoris and the opening of the vagina.
Signs of varicose veins
If you have varicose veins you may notice:
- your feet, ankles or legs are swollen
- your legs ache or feel heavy
- dry and itchy skin over the veins
- leg cramps at night
Varicose veins can be uncomfortable but they are not dangerous for you or your baby.
It is a good idea to mention your varicose veins to your GP, midwife or obstetrician when you see them.
When to get medical help
Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP or midwife immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:
What to do if you have varicose veins
rest as much as possible
sit with your legs up
stay active and do activities that will help your circulation, such as walking or swimming
wear comfy, loose clothes, particularly trousers, underwear and socks
wear compression stockings which you can get from your pharmacist. Put them on in the morning before your legs swell
try to maintain a healthy weight - extra weight can put more pressure on your veins
do not stand for long periods
do not sit with your legs crossed
These foot exercises can help varicose veins:
- Bend and stretch your foot up and down 30 times.
- Rotate your foot 8 times one way and 8 times the other way.
- Repeat with your other foot.
Why you may get varicose veins
Your risk of developing varicose veins increases when you're pregnant.
Your baby and placenta (afterbirth) need extra blood so the amount of blood in your body increases. This can stretch your blood vessels.
As your womb grows, it may put pressure on the veins in your legs. This also increases the risk of varicose veins.
The hormonal changes of pregnancy are also another reason that can increase the risk of varicose veins.
Risk factors for developing varicose veins
Some women are more at risk of varicose veins while pregnant.
If other members of your family have had varicose veins during pregnancy, you may be at higher risk.
If you have had varicose veins in the past they are likely to occur again when you become pregnant.
If your body mass index (BMI) is high, your risk of varicose veins is higher.
Standing or sitting
Standing or sitting for long periods of time can increase your risk of varicose veins.
Varicose veins after the birth
Most of the time, varicose veins go away on their own or reduce in size 3 or 4 months after the birth of your baby. They may come back the next time you become pregnant.
If your varicose veins don't go away after the birth, you can speak to your GP about treatment options.