Have varicose veins? You’re not alone. The Society for Vascular Surgery estimates that 35% of people in the United States struggle with those bulging veins that develop in the legs. While it’s true that some people with varicose veins develop symptoms like pain, swelling and leg heaviness or fatigue, it’s also a condition that you can manage and learn to live with comfortably.
Learning how to live with varicose veins means developing healthy habits and home treatment practices that you can work into your regular routine. Here are some suggestions that are easy to implement, don’t cost a lot and support an overall healthy lifestyle.
1. DO Wear Gradient Compression Stockings
Doctors often recommend gradient compression stockings for their patients with varicose veins. Varicose veins usually develop when the valves in the leg veins weaken and stop being able to close properly. This causes blood to pool in the legs, putting pressure on the vein walls and ultimately causing varicose veins to develop.
Gradient compression stockings counteract this process. They exert pressure in the legs that’s strongest in the feet and ankles and gradually less further up the leg. This helps to “squeeze” the blood back up toward the heart, somewhat like you’d squeeze a toothpaste tube.
Research has shown that compression stockings may reduce varicose vein pain and swelling. If you’re reluctant to get a pair because you’re picturing the kind your grandmother used to wear, take heart — today’s compression stockings are much more fashion-forward. You can get them in a variety of colors and lengths too, and find them in a vein specialist’s office.
2. DON’T Wear Tight Clothing or High Heels
Aside from gradient compression stockings, which are designed to promote healthy circulation, clothing that constricts your lower body is bad for varicose veins. Get rid of pants and skirts that are too tight in the waist. Instead, opt for items that flow more loosely around the legs. You don’t have to change your style completely — just shift away from the things that squeeze.
Stay away from high heels too. Research has shown that high-heeled shoes impair the function of your calf muscles and cause higher pressure in the leg veins. High vein pressure contributes directly to varicose veins, so you’ll feel better if you trade those high heels for flats.
3. DO Exercise Regularly
According to the American Heart Association, physical activity is one of the healthiest habits you can adopt when you live with varicose veins. Scientists report that it can improve leg pain by up to 70%, reduce swelling by 25% and even improve vein appearance by 25%.
Walking is particularly important because it causes your calf muscles to contract, which pushes blood back to the heart. The process is a lot like what gradient compression stockings do passively. Make a point of getting up and walking several times a day, especially if you sit or stand for long periods.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, including brisk walking. You can also try other low-impact activities such as swimming, cycling, rollerblading or yoga.
4. DON’T Eat Too Much Salt
Sodium (salt) can cause the body to retain water, which can worsen varicose vein symptoms. Cut down on your salt intake and replace your salty snacks with foods high in potassium and fiber, such as:
- White beans, lentils and other legumes
- Leafy vegetables
- Whole grains
- Almonds, pistachios and other nuts
In general, good nutritional choices make it easier for people to manage varicose veins because a healthy diet supports a healthy weight. Several studies have connected excess weight to increased severity of varicose vein symptoms, possibly because of the extra pressure that weight puts on the legs. When you control your weight, you also help control your varicose vein symptoms.
5. DO Put Your Feet Up
A few times a day and at night, try to rest with your legs raised, preferably higher than your heart. Consider sleeping with pillows under the ankles, or lie on the couch with your feet up on throw pillows. This lets gravity take over the task of drawing the blood back toward the heart, which prevents pooling.
6. DON’T Get a Lot of Heat Exposure
According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, exposure to heat can cause the legs to swell and increase blood pooling, which contributes to varicose veins. Try to avoid hot tubs, saunas and even very hot baths. Keep your legs away from heating units like space heaters and radiators, and minimize sunbathing in hotter weather.
If you can stand cold showers instead of hot ones, they’re great for varicose veins. The cold water helps stimulate circulation and activates the muscles that support vein function. If that won’t work for you, though, try running your legs under cold water and massaging them. Massage in an upward motion from the feet to the thighs, encouraging the blood to move upward.
7. DO Keep Skin Clean and Hydrated
If you just can’t say no to hot showers, especially in the winter, it’s understandable. Just make sure that after every shower, you pat your skin dry and apply a non-scented moisturizer, since hot water can irritate and damage your skin. Applying the moisturizer will also give you a nice massage, but don’t rub too hard, especially where you have varicose veins. This can damage the skin and the vein walls.
And of course, remember to drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will improve your circulation and counteract blood pooling, while also strengthening the muscles around your veins. The stronger these muscles are, the less susceptible you’ll be to worsening varicose veins.
Speaking with a Specialist
Once you learn how to live with varicose veins, many aspects of your life will become more comfortable. You may experience fewer symptoms, including pain, swelling and heavy legs. Some home treatments, like compression stockings and cold-water massages, even promote healthy circulation and can slow the progression of varicose veins.
If you’d like more advice on how to live with varicose veins, consult a vein specialist. My Vein Treatment’s specialist locator tool makes it easy to find someone in your area who can help you develop a personalized varicose veins home treatment plan.