What are vulva varicosities in pregnancy?
Varicose veins occur when sections of your veins become enlarged, dilated, twisted, or overfilled with blood. When this occurs in the vulva area, (usually on the lips and skinfolds) it is called vulva varicosities. Vulva varicosities are common in pregnancy and often develop together with varicose veins on other parts of the leg. Vulva varicosities may be tiny and only moderately swollen or can be large, twisted, very heavy, itchy and painful.
What causes vulva varicosities?
Vulva varicosities usually develop during pregnancy. During this time, the increase in blood, which flows more slowly from your legs back up to your pelvis, can cause the vulva veins to swell. Additionally, the walls of your vein relax due to the changing levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones in your body. When the slow-moving blood returns through the relaxed/swollen vein, it pools in the vein, causing the vulva veins to swell or twist.
Factors that make vulva varicosities more likely
According to a 2017 study, it’s estimated that 18 to 22 percent of women who are pregnant have vulva varicosities.
As with other types of varicose veins, whether or not you will develop vulva varicosities is usually hereditary. However, there are a number of additional factors that will increase the likelihood of developing vulva varicosities:
- weight gain
- having a sedentary job
- hot weather
- not taking appropriate care of varicose veins on the legs can cause the varicose veins to spread higher up and develop in the vulva area. (Read our guide to caring for varicose veins)
Signs & Symptoms of Vulva Varicosities
Vulva varicosities usually cause the entire vulva area to become swollen, with or without accompanying pain or pressure. In many cases, the swelling and pressure causes reduction in bladder control.
Vulva varicosities can develop in a mild form with almost no symptoms and can therefore often go unnoticed. In many cases however, the vulva varicosities cause mild to extreme pressure, itchiness, and overall heaviness. Many describe the feeling that ‘everything is going to fall out’ or ‘constantly looking for the nearest chair.’ Additionally, the sensation of blood pooling in the vulva area can cause many women to panic that the ‘baby is about to come out’ even if they are only in their second trimester! In some extreme cases, even regular basic functioning can be disturbed by the vulva varicosities.
What to do if you think you have it
Vulva varicosities, although extremely uncomfortable and often painful, are generally not dangerous. During pregnancy, treatment is usually focused on pain relief and preventing deterioration. In most cases, they go away on their own within six weeks after pregnancy. In some extreme cases where they do not go away, it is important to discuss with your physician what (if any) treatment should be done.
If you have not been formally diagnosed, we recommend having your OB-GYN or a vein specialist check your veins just to make sure there is nothing more serious.
Are vulva varicosities dangerous?
Vulva varicosities are not dangerous and usually go away on their own after birth. In most cases, having vulva varicosities will not affect your ability to have a natural birth. It is, however, always good to discuss any concerns you have about this with your OBG. In some extreme cases, a vein can burst during labor from the additional pressure of the birth. If this does happen it is not generally dangerous, just unpleasant.
How to ease and prevent vulva varicosities
If you have vulva varicosities during pregnancy, the main focus of treatment is to relieve the pain and discomfort, and to minimize deterioration.
Wearing a supportive girdle or brace designed specifically for supporting vulva varicosities is the most effective noninvasive way to relieve the pressure and prevent the swelling. In addition, wearing even a low compression support hosiery will improve your entire blood circulation. This in turn often lowers the pooling of your blood in the vulva area.
Avoid prolonged sitting and standing; sedentary positions increase the pressure on the vulva area. If you work sitting or standing for long stretches of time, try get up and move around regularly.
Doing regular low impact exercise such as brisk walking is good for improving your overall circulatory system. Swimming is the most recommended exercise as it improves the blood circulation whilst being in water removes the pressure from the vulva and upper legs.
There are also specific exercises that are beneficial for this condition.
A tight-fitting skirt or pants may limit the movement of your upper legs. Our customers who suffer from vulva varicosities have reported feeling some level of relief when changing to clothing that does not restrict their upper leg movement.
Using a cold compress on the vulva area or washing the area with cold water causes the veins to dilate, thus minimizing the swelling and relieving the itchiness and pressure.
Vulva varicosities and its accompanying symptoms can cause your pregnancy to be uncomfortable and challenging. However, it is important to bear in mind that with the correct support you really can find relief from most of the discomfort. Additionally, it is comforting to remember that most of the symptoms will reverse on their own after birth.