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Varicose veins are a common problem, affecting up to 1 in 3 adults in their lifetime. They are usually a sign of an underlying venous insufficiency.
Thread veins can appear anywhere on the body but are mostly evidenced on the legs and face. They are more common than varicose veins, affecting up to 80% of adults.
Leg ulcers appear as broken skin in the lower leg or feet. We have been successfully treating venous leg ulcers for over 20 years.
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The below content has been medically reviewed and approved by Consultant Interventional Radiologist Dr Thoraya Ammar (MBBS, MRCP, FRCR) at Veincentre.
Last reviewed 25th January 2023.
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Varicose veins and spider veins (or ‘thread veins’) are more common than you think! Around 30% of the adult population will have thread veins at some point during their lifetime, while women are more likely to develop varicose veins than men1. So, if you think you have varicose veins or thread veins, you’re not alone.
There’s also a strong link between pregnancy and the development of varicose veins1.
Many women suffer with varicose veins during pregnancy, with some studies reporting that as many as 70% of women are affected2.
To understand why varicose veins and spider veins manifest during pregnancy, it’s important to know what both conditions are.
Varicose veins are caused by valves inside the veins failing and allowing blood to flow in the wrong direction. When the one-way valves that help the blood go from the feet back up to the heart stop working, the blood goes back down towards the feet which increases the pressure inside the vein, causing it to bulge outwards.
Thread veins can also be a result of the same valve failure but are tiny, prominent veins just below the skin’s surface. They do not bulge like varicose veins and carry fewer symptoms.
Based on the above, there are a few things that can cause varicose veins and spider veins to develop during pregnancy. While genetics play a role, it’s not the only reason. There are other important factors that also affect pregnant women, including:
Thread veins (or ‘spider veins’) appear mostly on the legs during pregnancy, with a higher likelihood than varicose veins.
It’s common for women to have both thread veins and varicose veins during pregnancy as they are symptoms of the same condition. Varicose veins can affect the vulval area, though this is less common and can be linked to varicose veins in the legs.
Just like most other people who suffer with varicose veins, the symptoms can vary during pregnancy, from little to no discomfort, to legs that feel heavy and achy. Other symptoms can include a burning sensation, restlessness, throbbing and itchiness.
Varicose veins that develop during pregnancy can often completely improve in the 12 weeks that follow giving birth. However, in some women varicose veins will remain after pregnancy and then will only be fully resolved with treatment3.
It’s rare for varicose veins during pregnancy to cause complications like venous ulcers, thrombophlebitis (superficial clot in a varicose vein) or DVT. In most cases, varicose veins and spider veins that progress during pregnancy, tend to improve after the baby has been born.
Therefore, varicose veins are best treated conservatively during pregnancy by wearing compression stockings, doing regular exercise and maintaining a healthy diet.
There are a few things you can do to relieve the pain that varicose veins cause during pregnancy.
Measures to relieve symptoms include:
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Unfortunately, the factors that contribute to the development of varicose veins during pregnancy such as increased blood volume, increase in uterine mass and hormonal changes are normal physiological responses to pregnancy.
Don’t worry, though. There are things you can do to reduce their impact, including leg elevation, exercises such as swimming, as well as wearing of compression hosiery which can reduce the discomfort that’s common with varicose veins4.
Varicose veins are not routinely treated during pregnancy as we do not have safety data on the medications used during the procedure.
There is also a small increased risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) during pregnancy. Due to these factors, most specialists would treat pregnant patients conservatively, and therefore there is no safety data on the impact of EVLA treatment on pregnant women.
As varicose veins can resolve fully after pregnancy and small risks of DVT in the 6-8 weeks after a pregnancy we do not advocate treatment at Veincentre until 3 months post childbirth.
We do not advise to undertake consultation and treatment until three months post-childbirth.
If a consultation is attended prior to a subsequent pregnancy, a further scan following pregnancy will need to take place prior to any treatment being carried out to ensure there has been no new abnormal refluxing veins during or after pregnancy. This second scan will be free of charge.
Varicose veins are usually treated with endovenous laser ablation (EVLA) and foam sclerotherapy or avulsions. However, it is important to note that mothers who are breastfeeding would need to discard any milk produced in the first 24 hours after foam sclerotherapy treatment to avoid passing the drug to the baby. It is imperative to ensure enough milk has been expressed to cover this timeframe.