Varicose veins are something that many people deal with, though when you are pregnant they can become increasingly likely to form. In addition, during pregnancy they may appear in places that you may not suspect, such as your pelvis or groin. In many cases, you may not even know that you have a varicose vein; rather, it may feel like a chronic pain or pressure in your pelvic area. This is called Pelvic Congestion Syndrome (PCS), and it can often be triggered by pregnancy due to a number of factors.
What Causes Pelvic Congestion Syndrome During Pregnancy?
When you are pregnant, to support the growing baby and placenta, the blood flow around your body increases significantly. This can put extra pressure on your veins, and can make the small valves inside your veins work overtime. This makes it more likely that blood will flow backwards through the vein and begin to pool. The pressure this creates is what causes varicose veins.
A secondary factor is that the weight of the baby in the pelvis, and the shifting structure of the pelvis itself (to accommodate the baby) can exacerbate this effect. You may find that you begin to experience pain or discomfort in your pelvis during pregnancy, that can become worse if you spend a long period of time on your feet, do a lot of exercise, or engage in sexual intercourse. If you experience this type of pain, it’s easy to just assume that it’s a normal part of pregnancy. However, the Pelvic Congestion Syndrome in some cases does not end when the pregnancy does. In this case, you need to seek treatment to alleviate the pressure in the veins.
Are There Any Risk Factors that Make PCS More Likely?
There are a number of factors that can increase your likelihood of developing PCS. First, there is a genetic component to the syndrome, with your likelihood of PCS increasing if a family member has also dealt with this. If you have been pregnant before, or if you have any of the risk factors of developing varicose veins, you are more at risk.
Eddie Chaloner, an expert working with varicose veins, notes that “ultrasound scanning has now shown us that up to 20% of women coming to see a doctor with varicose veins in the legs, do not have a problem with the leg valves at all – rather that the bulging leg veins are in fact filled by faulty valves from within the pelvis.
To a certain extent that is not surprising – the female pelvis has a lot more organs in it than the male one and pregnancy causes significant anatomical and physiological changes in the female pelvis which have long lasting effects. Women with pelvic vein problems causing veins in the legs have often had trouble with veins during pregnancy – either in the legs or in the vulva. Under normal circumstances, when the pregnancy is over, the vulvar veins recede and often completely disappear. The leg veins often persist.”
What Treatments Are Available?
There are a number of different treatment approaches that you can consider. If you seek treatment after pregnancy, you may be given medication to alter estrogen levels in your body. For many women this shows some improvement in symptoms. Especially if the pain and discomfort appears to get worse around the time of your period, this may be a viable treatment option to begin with.
In other cases, hormonal treatments do not seem to have any effect on the discomfort. In this situation, you will need to consider varicose vein treatments such as having a catheter inserted into the vein to seal it off. This is called Pelvic Vein Embolisation, and it can stop the blood from pooling and will reduce pain in the area. The benefit of this treatment is that it is generally effective in most cases, and also is not contraindicated for further pregnancies.
For most women, PCS is something that can be dealt with relatively simply. If you are experiencing pelvic pain, especially during pregnancy, talk to your care provider about having an ultrasound performed to rule out PCS.