18 Home Remedies for Varicose Veins

by Editors of Consumer Guide

Home Remedy Treatments for Dealing With Varicose Veins

In addition to being unsightly, varicose veins can be quite painful. Follow the home remedies below to help postpone their development or ease any discomfort.

Check your family tree. This vascular problem runs in families, although the reason is unknown. Some experts believe there is a weakness in the gene that governs the development of the veins. This may lead to defects in the structure of valves and veins or, in some people, a decrease in the number of valves in the veins, causing the few that are there to get overloaded in their duties. If you do find a history of varicose veins in your family, the sooner you follow preventive home remedies the better.

Get moving. While exercise may not prevent varicose veins, doctors agree that physical activity can lessen the symptoms by improving circulation, which prevents blood from pooling. As working muscles in the lower limbs contract, they push blood through the veins, back to the heart.

To get your legs moving, almost any exercise that involves the legs will do, from aerobics to strengthening to spot-toning activities, say the experts. Ride a bike, take an aerobics class, go for a walk or a run, use the stair machine in the gym or climb the stairs at work during your lunch hour -- these are all good exercises for the legs. Spot-toning exercises, such as leg raises, that specifically build up the muscles in the buttocks, thighs, and lower legs are also recommended.

Eating a balanced diet and keeping your weight down can help ease the pain of varicose veins.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Eating a balanced diet and keeping
your weight down can help
ease the pain of varicose veins.

Lose weight. Not only does obesity tax just about every system in the body, but carrying around extra baggage makes most people less active, which means their leg muscles do less work. As a result, overweight people usually can't pump blood from their lower limbs back to the heart efficiently. In addition, an overweight person's blood vessels carry more blood than a thinner person's, so the strain is greater on the vessels themselves.

Eat a balanced diet. Besides helping you maintain proper weight, a balanced diet can give you nutrients that may actually help prevent varicose veins.
For example, protein and vitamin C are both components of collagen, part of the tissue in the veins and valves. If the collagen is in good shape, the tissues are likely to be more resilient.
A balanced diet that includes a wide variety of foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein, is the best way to get the right amounts of valuable nutrients. However, while a healthy diet can strengthen your vascular system, it can't cure varicose veins.

Take a break from standing. When you're standing in one place, the blood in your leg veins must not only make a long uphill journey against the force of gravity, it has to do so without the pumping assistance that expanding-and-contracting leg muscles can provide. (It's a little like trying to get up a creek without a paddle!) As a result, the blood tends to pool in the lower legs, leading to the development of varicose veins.

If possible, take frequent breaks to walk around or, preferably, to sit with your feet up. And while you're standing in one spot, shift your weight from one leg to the other and/or occasionally get up on tiptoes; it will engage your leg muscles in the task of pushing blood up toward your heart.

Prop up your legs. Putting your feet up is good, but elevating them above the level of your heart is even better. It's a way to use gravity to help the blood move from your feet and ankles back to your heart. Doctors have been recommending elevation to relieve leg pain and swelling for centuries. As a matter of fact, Hippocrates in ancient Greece wrote of its benefits.

So lie down on a couch and prop your feet on the arm or put three or four pillows under them (or lie on the floor and rest your feet on the seat of a chair). Can't lie down? Sit on one chair and prop your feet on the back of another chair. When possible, try to elevate your legs for ten minutes once an hour.

But don't sit too long, either. Some experts theorize that even sitting for extended periods can contribute to varicose veins. Bent knees and hips, the thinking goes, complicate and slow the return of blood to your heart. So it's very important that on a long car or plane ride or during a day of sitting at the office (or at home, for that matter) you get up and stretch your legs once in a while. When you need a break, try this rejuvenator: Stand on your toes and flex the heel up and down ten times.

Don't be crossed. Sitting with your legs crossed can slow circulation to and from your lower legs.

Check your seat. The same can happen if you sit in a chair with a seat that is too deep for your leg length: The front edge of the chair digs into the back of your knees, compressing blood vessels and restricting blood flow. Get a chair that fits your body better, or, if that's not possible, scoot your backside away from the chair's back until the pressure on your legs is relieved.

Flex your feet. Contracting the muscles in your feet may help force blood upward and out of the veins. While seated -- and even while your legs are elevated -- try these three exercises to really get the blood pumping out of your feet and back to your heart: 

  • The Ankle Pump: Flex your foot up and down as you would when you pump a piano pedal or gas pedal.

  • Ankle Circles: Rotate your feet clockwise and counterclockwise.

  • Heel Slips: With your knees bent, slide your heels back and forth.

Sleep with elevated feet. For those with chronic swelling in the lower legs, it may help put a few pillows under your feet while you are sleeping.

Lower your heels. Shoes with lower heels require your calf muscles to do more work -- a plus for better circulation -- than high-heeled shoes.

Wear tennis shoes. If your feet habitually swell, it may be worthwhile to wear tennis shoes or other lace-up shoes that can be opened up or loosened to alleviate the pressure and allow for freer circulation.

Loosen up. Your clothing, that is. Stay away from pants or other clothing that are tight at the waist or groin; they can act almost as tourniquets that restrict blood flow at these important circulation points.

Consider "stocking" up on support. Ask your pharmacist or doctor about special compression stockings designed to improve circulation in the legs. How do they work? They apply more pressure to the lower legs than to the thigh area. Since more pressure is exerted on the lower legs, blood is more readily pushed up toward the heart.

The stockings' compression on the legs is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), and ranges from 20 mm Hg for weaker support to 60 mm Hg for strong support. (In comparison, the support hose you can buy at any department store provide pressure of 14 to 17 mm Hg.) The stronger versions require a doctor's prescription. The lower-strength stockings are sometimes recommended for pregnant women.

Women often develop varicose veins during pregnancy; most subside after the baby is born.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Women often develop varicose veins during pregnancy;
most subside after the baby is born.

These days, compression stockings come in a variety of styles -- below the knee, midthigh, full thigh, and waist high -- and an increasing variety of colors as well as different strengths. A possible downside: The stronger stockings have a tendency to feel hot. They can also be relatively expensive, although you should check with your insurer to see if any or all of their cost is covered.

The stockings are available in most pharmacy and medical-supply stores as well as through mail order and Web sites. It's important that the stockings fit properly, however, so you may want to ask your pharmacist for assistance with measuring.

Slip into spandex pants. Like nonprescription, store-bought support hose, pants made from this elastic material apply pressure to the legs and may help somewhat. Be sure, however, that they aren't so tight in the groin or waist that they cut into your skin and limit circulation.

Cover up the blues. If you've stopped wearing shorts or going to the beach because you're embarrassed about your varicose veins, make them "disappear." There are products specially made to cover the blue vein lines that make you want to take cover.

Available in a variety of shades to match your skin, the cream is applied by hand and blended. Leg Magic by Covermark Cosmetics is waterproof and even has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 16 to protect your legs from the sun's harmful rays. Wearing stockings over the cream won't make it fade or rub off, and you can even go for a swim without washing away all your cover.

While these types of products obviously won't fix the veins and relieve physical discomfort, they can make you feel better about the way your legs look.

Consider the effects of estrogen. The hormone is generally believed to have a detrimental effect on the collagen and connective tissue of the veins. If you have varicose veins or have a strong family history of them and you are considering oral contraceptive or hormone replacement therapy, you may want to specifically ask about this potential side effect when you discuss the pros and cons of such therapy with your doctor. While estrogen probably doesn't have a direct effect on varicose veins, the hormone can increase the risk of embolisms, or blood clots, which interfere with blood circulation.

Since genetics plays a large part in whether or not you get varicose veins, there's not a whole lot you can do to avoid them. But by following the home remedies in this article, you may be able to hold them off for a bit and ease some of the discomfort when they do appear.

Pregnancy & Varicose Veins and Spider Veins: "Cousin" to Varicose Veins
Pregnancy can lead to the development of varicose veins and spider veins. Surging hormones weaken collagen and connective tissues in the pelvis in preparation for giving birth. Unfortunately, as a side effect, the hormones may also weaken the collagen found in the veins and valves of the body. These weakened tissues have a more difficult time standing up to the increased blood volume that comes with carrying a baby. In addition, the weight of the fetus itself may play a role in the development of varicose veins in the legs by compressing the veins between the legs and heart. Elevating the legs whenever possible can be helpful, and compression stockings in the 20 to 30 mm Hg range may be prescribed by your doctor. The good news is that for many women, the swollen veins subside within a few months after the baby is born.

Eighty percent of varicose-vein sufferers will also develop spider veins. And half of all spider-vein sufferers also have varicose veins. But unlike knotty and often uncomfortable varicose veins, spider veins are thin (they are no thicker than a thread or hair and do not bulge out), dilated blood vessels that form a weblike pattern (hence the name) on the skin, most commonly on the legs, neck, and face. Except for their link to pregnancy and hormones (see "Advice for Moms-to-Be"), no one knows for sure why they crop up. Because the cause hasn't been pinpointed, the veins can't be prevented. But on the plus side, they rarely cause problems -- perhaps only a little itching now and again. 

For more information about varicose veins and how to prevent them, try the following links:

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Timothy Gower is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in many publications, including Reader's Digest, Prevention, Men's Health, Better Homes and Gardens, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. The author of four books, Gower is also a contributing editor for Health magazine.

Alice Lesch Kelly is a health writer based in Boston. Her work has been published in magazines such as Shape, Fit Pregnancy, Woman's Day, Reader's Digest, Eating Well, and Health. She is the co-author of three books on women's health.

Linnea Lundgren has more than 12 years experience researching, writing, and editing for newspapers and magazines. She is the author of four books, including Living Well With Allergies.

Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers and Southern Living magazines. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, her professional passion is learning and writing about health.

ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS:

Ivan Oransky, M.D., is the deputy editor of The Scientist. He is author or co-author of four books, including The Common Symptom Answer Guide, and has written for publications including the Boston Globe, The Lancet, and USA Today. He holds appointments as a clinical assistant professor of medicine and as adjunct professor of journalism at New York University.

David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.


This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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