Has Sex Become Painful During Pregnancy?

If your sex life is temporarily on hold because it’s just too painful, there may be some relief. Pregnant women can experience pelvic and vaginal pain that interferes with a satisfying sex life. This condition, known as pelvic congestion syndrome, is caused by varicose veins in the pelvic area.

What Causes Pelvic Congestion Syndrome? 

A growing baby puts pressure on the major blood vessels in the abdomen, aggravating varicose veins in both the legs and the vagina. Not everyone suffers from them and, in many cases after delivery, enlarged veins return to normal. But, if you’re one of the many women who are prone to painful varicose veins, you may see more progressive damage if you get pregnant again.

In both pelvic congestion and varicose veins, the valves in the veins that help blood flow toward the heart are either defective or damaged. The valves prevent backflow of blood. When the valves are destroyed, blood pools in the veins making them larger and stretching the vein walls. In pelvic congestion syndrome, the enlarged veins appear near the uterus, fallopian tubes, vulva and vagina.

Treatment During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, treatment options are limited because of radiation risks to your baby. 

  • Wearing surgical compression stockings, specifically designed for pregnancy, is the basic treatment for varicose veins. Compression of the legs and abdomen helps prevent blood from pooling in the veins. If you already have varicose veins, compression stockings may prevent the veins from getting worse.
  • Staying off your feet for extended periods, or elevating your legs as much as possible, day or night, also brings pain relief.
  • Walking, climbing stairs, cycling and swimming keep your calf muscles in motion to reduce pressure and pooling.
  • Flexing your ankles periodically will pump the blood out of your legs. During periods of prolonged sitting or standing, flex your ankles 4 or 5 times and repeat every 30 minutes.
  • Avoiding excessive heat on your legs, such as in hot tubs and hot baths, is recommended as heat increases vein swelling and can lead to blood pooling in the veins.

Treatment After Delivery

After delivery there are several options to treat varicose veins, wherever they appear. 

  • For varicose veins in the pelvic region, an MRI can confirm whether vaginal veins are engorged. If so, a catheter is used to insert coils in the veins to stop blood from collecting in them. The procedure eventually shrinks the veins, and they rarely reopen. Many women wonder if they should wait until they’re finished having children to schedule this procedure. But, if you’ve been diagnosed with pelvic congestion, there’s no reason to wait. Once treated, varicose veins rarely come back. 
  • For varicose veins in your legs, an ultrasound can detect leaky valves. An intravenous laser may be used to close the veins, which then shrink over time. Another procedure called microphlebectomy removes smaller veins through tiny incisions. Sclerotherapy injections use a special solution to eliminate surface veins such as spider veins.

Annoying, and often painful, varicose veins shouldn’t interfere with your life—especially not your sex life. Don't be afraid to discuss your options with your doctor. 

Make an Appointment 

To schedule a consultation with a Virtua vascular surgeon, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3. 

Updated April 10, 2017

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