Varicose veins: how you can help yourself
Ordinary support tights are probably a waste of money except during pregnancy. If you think that you are developing varicose veins, see your doctor. If varicose veins run in your family, there is not very much you can do to prevent them.
- If you are overweight, try to lose a few kilos.
- Take regular walks. Walking is the best exercise to improve the flow of blood in the legs, but avoid exercises that use weights and high-impact exercises, such as jogging.
- Avoid long periods of standing. If you have to stand in one position for longer than a few minutes, do some ankle movements, such as standing on tiptoe to encourage your calf muscles to pump blood out of your leg veins.
- Put your feet up whenever you are sitting around at home. This will help the veins to empty and reduce swelling of the feet. Try not to cross your legs or to sit for long periods with your legs bent. On long train or plane journeys, walk around from time to time; and on long car or coach journeys take advantage of any stops to get out and walk for a few minutes.
- Avoid falling asleep in a chair. If you are tired, go to bed.
- Extract of horse chestnut (conker juice) is very popular in Germany as a remedy for varicose veins. The active ingredient, aescin, is said to strengthen blood vessels. In fact, as varicose veins are a mechanical problem due to leaky valves in the veins, there is no way that horse-chestnut extract could make them close properly. However, some people find that it helps to relieve aching, so it might be worth a try if that is your main problem. It can cause nausea in some people. Some horse-chestnut preparations also contain a plant extract called Butcher's Broom, which should be avoided if you have high blood pressure.
- Do not wear garters or tight hold-up stockings.
- Wear lace-up shoes, which give better support and allow your leg muscles to move more naturally.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables to avoid constipation. Some people think that onions, berries and grapes are especially helpful for varicose veins, but there is no scientific evidence for this.
- If you have varicose veins, take extra care of the skin on your legs, because the blood stagnates and the circulation to the skin is poor. The skin can become deprived of oxygen and any damage will take longer to heal. Use a moisturizing lotion, do not scratch any itchy areas, try to avoid knocks and do not toast your legs in front of a fire.
When to ask for treatment
Do not feel you are wasting your doctor's time if you request treatment for veins that are not too bad. The longer you have them, the worse they get, so surgeons prefer to deal with early cases, because they are easier and the results are better. Colour changes in the skin caused by varicose veins never completely reverse after surgery.
It used to be said that women who develop varicose veins after pregnancy should not be treated if they intend to have more children. Most surgeons now believe it is best to treat after the first baby, rather than wait until the woman's family is complete.
Before providing treatment, a specialist will do an ultrasound (Doppler) scan to check the state of your veins.
Written by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Dr Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Saturday, February 13th 2010
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Varicose simply means swollen
Varicose veins are the price we pay for our upright posture; if we still walked on all fours, we probably wouldn't have them
One person in five has varicose veins or is likely to get them
Varicose veins usually develop slowly over 10-20 years
Recent research has found that varicose veins are more common in men than in women
60 000 people in England have hospital treatment for varicose veins every year
Varicose veins are more common in Wales than anywhere else in the world