During pregnancy, your body goes through many changes to support your growing fetus. These changes can lead to a variety of uncomfortable short-term symptoms like morning sickness, fatigue, breast tenderness, heartburn, and leg swelling; these changes can also stress your blood vessels and lead to longer-lasting problems like varicose veins.
What you may not realize, however, is that pregnancy-related changes don’t just set the stage for easier spider vein and varicose vein formation in your legs — they also increase your risk of developing vulvar varicosities, or varicose veins on the outer area of your genitals.
Here, our team of board-certified specialists at Vascular Vein Centers explains what causes vulvar varicosities and whether you should be concerned about them when you’re expecting.
Understanding vulvar varicosities
The word vulva is derived from the Latin term meaning covering. As the outer part of your genitals, your vulva includes the labia major and minor (vulvar lips and skin folds), the urethral opening, the vaginal opening, and the clitoris. This area also contains numerous blood vessels that can become twisted and swollen — or varicose — under the stress of pregnancy.
A common problem
Up to one in five (20%) pregnant women get varicose veins on their genitals; women who already have varicose veins on their pelvis are more likely to get vulvar varicosities when they’re expecting. Most vulvar varicosities don’t appear during a woman’s first pregnancy — instead, they tend to develop with subsequent pregnancies.
Signs and symptoms
Vulvar varicosities don’t always cause symptoms, and women often don’t realize these hard-to-see varicose veins have developed. When symptoms do occur, they’re often mild; your genitals may feel “different,” or you may see twisted, swollen, or cluster-like bluish veins on your vulva.
You may also experience feelings of fullness, pressure, itchiness, or discomfort in your vulva, or vulvar pain that worsens after sexual intercourse or when you’re on your feet for a long time.
Why they develop
Vulvar varicosities tend to emerge in the second or third trimester when a “perfect storm” of conditions makes them more likely. First, pregnancy-related hormonal changes relax the walls of your veins, making them less efficient and more vulnerable to swelling and twisting.
Next, the increased blood volume of pregnancy means that your veins — including those in your pelvic region — must work harder to move the extra blood to your heart. Finally, an expanding uterus and growing fetus place increased weight and pressure on the veins in your pelvic area.
Are vulvar varicosities concerning?
You can’t prevent vulvar varicosities during pregnancy, but you can reduce your risk of getting them by staying physically active, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding long stretches of sitting. If you do develop them, it’s helpful to keep the following in mind:
Mild and self-resolving
Most of the time, vulvar varicosities are a mild, short-term problem that resolves soon after you have your baby. They usually disappear on their own — without professional medical treatment or special at-home care — within six weeks of delivery.
It’s also important to note that vulvar varicosities won’t interfere with a vaginal delivery. They also have a low blood flow, so even if they do bleed during childbirth, it’s easy to control.
To manage uncomfortable vulvar varicosity symptoms, we recommend that you:
- Avoid extended periods of sitting or standing
- Eat a low-sodium diet (salt increases fluid storage and stresses your veins)
- Stay well-hydrated to promote optimal circulation
- Sleep on your left side to take pressure off your vulvar veins
You can also wear a support garment on your pelvic area — one that’s specifically designed to help with vulvar varicosities. Our team can help you find the best garment for your needs.
When varicosities persist
Rarely, pregnancy-induced vulvar varicosities persist longer than six weeks post-delivery. If you still have varicose veins on your genitals three months after giving birth, it may be time to consider treatment.
Post-pregnancy treatment options
For vulvar varicosities that persist long after delivery, your post-pregnancy vein removal options include:
Sclerotherapy is a safe, minimally invasive vein removal treatment that involves injecting the problematic vein with a chemical sclerosing agent. This FDA-approved medical solution irritates the vessel lining, causing it to collapse and eventually fade away. Sclerotherapy is the preferred treatment approach for most vulvar varicosities.
For particularly stubborn or recurrent vulvar varicosities, we may recommend a more invasive vein removal treatment called phlebectomy. With this procedure, we make a few tiny incisions in your skin and remove the problematic vein in small segments.
Worried about vulvar varicosities? We can help. Give us a call to learn more, or click online to schedule an appointment at your nearest Vascular Vein Centers office in College Park of Orlando, Waterford Lakes of East Orlando, Kissimmee, Lake Mary, Davenport/Haines City, or The Villages, Florida, today.