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Doctors Reveal When You Should Worry About Varicose Veins — Plus How To Shrink Them

Pairing these two seed extracts improves blood flow and eases leg pain

As we age, wear and tear on our veins boosts the chances of developing varicose veins. These rope-like, bulging veins are actually very common. Still, it can be unnerving when anything new appears on your body, especially when it involves something as vital as your veins. And while varicose veins are usually harmless, they can lead to some more serious health issues. So how do you know when to worry about varicose veins? Here’s what the experts say, plus the best natural ways to shrink them.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that bulge against the surface of the skin, most commonly on the legs, ankles and feet. They may be blue or purple in color and can appear twisted, lumpy or rope-like. Typically, varicose veins are not a cause for worry. By age 60, up to 70% of women will have them to some degree.

Normally, the blood flow through your veins is regulated by valves in the vein walls. But when these valves become weak or damaged, blood can pool in the veins, causing them to swell and become varicose.

“Some risk factors for developing varicose veins include age, female gender, increased weight, smoking, family history of vein disease and pregnancy,” says Cheng-Han Chen, MD, interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA.  “Activities and occupations that involve prolonged standing or sitting also increase the risk of developing varicose veins.”

A close-up of a woman's leg with varicose veins

When to worry about varicose veins

For some people, varicose veins are painless and harmless. But for others, varicose veins may be a cause for worry. Why? They can sometimes trigger uncomfortable symptoms or lead to more serious medical conditions.

“Symptoms of varicose veins can vary from mild to severe,” says Dev Batra, MD, a vascular and interventional radiologist at Texas Vascular Institute. The most common symptom is the telltale twisted, bulging vein. But some people also experience aching, swelling or heaviness in the legs.

“Individuals may experience skin changes in more severe cases, such as discoloration or ulcers near the affected veins,” Dr. Batra adds. “If left untreated, varicose veins can lead to more severe health issues, including chronic venous insufficiency, blood clots and skin ulcers.”

If you notice varicose veins starting to appear, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss possible treatment options. And seek medical attention ASAP if you notice signs of complications such as warmth, redness, excessive swelling, open wounds or a rash near the varicose veins.

How doctors treat varicose veins

“Treatment options for varicose veins range from conservative measures such as wearing compression stockings and making lifestyle changes to more advanced interventions like sclerotherapy, laser treatment and surgical procedures,” Dr. Batra explains.

A doctor examining a woman's leg in a medical office

If your varicose veins are severe, causing worry or triggering uncomfortable symptoms, these procedures can help get rid of them:

  • Sclerotherapy. A saline solution is injected in the vein, causing the vein wall to swell and seal shut. This is the most common treatment for varicose veins.
  • Endovenous thermal ablation. “Endovenous ablation therapy seals off the vein by using heat or laser,” says Sherry Ross, MD, an OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. In this non-surgical procedure, a catheter is inserted into the varicose vein. Then, a laser is used to deliver heat that seals off the wall of the vein.
  • Phlebectomy. This surgical procedure removes varicose veins just below the surface of the skin through tiny incisions.
  • Ligation and vein stripping. Larger varicose veins may be tied off and removed from the leg. Recovery from this type of surgery may take several weeks.

That said, medical intervention isn’t always necessary. In many cases, varicose veins can be managed with simple home remedies or lifestyle changes.

5 easy home remedies that can help

If you’re dealing with varicose veins, your doctor can rule out any complications and suggest the best treatment options. But in the meantime, these tips can help to minimize the appearance of varicose veins — or prevent them from developing in the first place.

1. Wear compression socks

Compression socks or stockings improve circulation by providing consistent pressure on the legs. This can be especially helpful if you work a job that requires you to be on your feet. “Compression stockings gently squeeze the legs, which increases pressure in the tissue beneath the skin to keep the blood moving,” Dr. Ross explains. “When blood moves in the legs, there is less leakage of fluid through the blood vessels, less swelling, less inflammation, less edema, fewer varicose veins and fewer blood clots.”

When shopping for compression socks, you’ll typically see a sizing guide from the brand that can help you determine your size based on calf circumference and shoe size. However, compression socks also come in different levels of compression (measured in mmHg). The ideal level varies from person to person. Check in with your doctor for a personalized recommendation.

Three women's legs on white sheets wearing colorful striped compression socks for varicose veins
Theresa Donahue McManus/Getty

Related: Compression Socks Can Dramatically Improve Your Sleep — But Only If You Wear Them During The Day, Say Vascular Experts

2. Put your feet up

If you’re stuck in an office chair or just chilling out on the couch, elevate your legs while sitting or resting, Dr. Batra says. This keeps blood pumping and prevents it from pooling in the legs, stretching vein walls. For folks who spend a lot of time at a desk, consider investing in a footrest. The handy device reduces the pressure on the backs of your legs. And if you’re resting on the couch or in bed, research suggests lying with your feet elevated about six inches above heart level is ideal for helping prevent varicose veins.

3. Enjoy a slow stroll

“Regular low-impact exercise including swimming, walking and cycling keeps the blood moving in your lower extremities,” Dr. Ross says. Aim for 30 to 45 minutes of movement daily to improve muscle tone and circulation, which lessens your risk of developing varicose veins, she adds.

Good news: You don’t need to clock all those minutes at once. You can break it up into small bouts of activity throughout the day and still reap the benefits. Hit your 30-minute goal by taking a 15-minute walk after lunch and dinner. Or take a 5-minute walk once an hour to give your legs a break from prolonged sitting or standing.

An important caveat: “High-impact exercises including jogging, running and jumping can increase blood pressure in the legs, worsening the discomfort caused by varicose veins,” Dr. Ross says. If varicose veins are making your legs feel achy or heavy, your doctor may advise limiting high-impact exercises to 30 minutes a day. (See more of our best self-care remedies for varicose veins.)

A woman walking along a path with a small grey dog and larger black dog
Ronnie Kaufman/Getty

4. Swap your shoes

“Certain types of shoes, such as high heels, can limit ankle movement and can make varicose veins worse,” Dr. Chen notes. “We recommend that you avoid high heel shoes and instead choose low-heeled footwear that allows you to work your calf muscles more.”

High-heeled shoes also inhibit the calf muscle pump, which is the force that helps pump blood from your lower extremities back to your heart. Low-heeled shoes, however, can promote better circulation and keep blood from pooling in the legs.

Related: The 7 Best Pickleball Shoes for Women That Look and Feel Great

5. Pair these seed extracts

“Grape seed extract and horse chestnut seed extract may reduce symptoms caused by varicose veins,” Dr. Ross says. Research in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that horse chestnut seed extract help alleviate leg pain and swelling caused by poor blood flow in the legs.

And a study in Medicine found that taking 150 mg of grape seed extract twice a day while also wearing compression stockings improved blood flow significantly better than compression stockings alone. One to try: Nature’s Way Leg Veins. The supplement supports vein strength with a blend of horse chestnut, grape seed extract and other herbal remedies.

For more ways to outsmart common vein troubles:

The 8 Best Natural Remedies For Varicose Veins According To Vascular Specialists

How to Get Rid of Spider Veins — For Good!

When Are Bulging, Veiny Hands a Cause For Medical Concern? Here’s What You Need To Know

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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