How to Get Rid of Varicose Veins

Learn what varicose veins really are and how you can improve them without the need for surgery.

Sanaz Majd, MD,
November 9, 2011

“My varicose veins are so ugly, Doc! What can I do?” I hear this question over and over again, so today’s article will tell you exactly what to do about those nasty varicose veins.

What Are Varicose Veins, Really?

Varicose veins are dilated, tortuous veins that run right underneath the skin of the legs. They are completely benign for the most part, except maybe for cosmetic reasons. They occur in women only a little more frequently than they do in men, and ten to thirty percent of people have them. 

What are the Symptoms of Varicose Veins?

Fortunately, they are truly not as scary as they appear to look. I have never heard of anyone actually dying from varicose veins. But I have heard a few people complain of mild tenderness overlying these enlarged veins, mild swelling of the legs, itching, sensation of skin tightening, or heaviness in the legs. The size of the vein does not correlate with the amount of discomfort. That means very small ones may cause discomfort and very large ones may not cause any problems at all. Symptoms often appear after a period of standing.

But most people with varicose veins have no symptoms. The biggest complaint from my patients is that they just simply don’t look pretty. Not the worst health problem to have, I would say.

Who Gets Varicose Veins and What Causes Them?

People with a family history of varicose veins often seem to complain of them more often. So what causes them? There are “doorways,” or valves, running throughout our veins that help to push the blood flow from the feet back up to the heart. And if this doorway is too “flappy,” fluid tends to accumulate in the veins, and they seem to “pop out” more than usual. Unfortunately, this “flappiness” of the vein valves is sometimes genetic, and there is not much you can do to prevent it.

In addition, hormonal effects, such as the Pill or pregnancy, can cause enlarged varicose veins in those who are more susceptible towards them. They may or may not improve once the hormonal influences have been removed.

Also, those who tend to get them may get more of them with age. 

What Can You Do to Treat Them?

Well, you don’t have to do anything. For the most part, they are cosmetic and nothing to lose sleep over. But if you are one of those very few who actually feel some discomfort, here are some Quick and Dirty Tips to help minimize those varicose veins:

  1. Elevation: After a long day at work, you may find some mild swelling in your legs. Elevate your legs above the level of the heart by propping them over some pillows when you come home. This will help gravity pull the blood flow back to the heart, whether those vein valves are flapping or not.

  2. Ice: Ice helps constrict blood vessels. And if those veins are dilated, applying an ice pack will help to reduce some of the swelling and discomfort over those swollen veins.

  3. Anti-inflammatory Medications: Medicine such as Ibuprofen may help to reduce the swelling and inflammation in your legs as well. But make sure to ask your doctor if it’s okay for you to take them, since there are few who are unable to tolerate these medications.

  4. Compression Stockings: Pharmacies often carry special over-the-counter compression stockings that help “tighten” up the skin and externally support those varicose veins by pushing the blood flow more easily up towards the heart. 

  5. Exercise: Try to get at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise on most days out of the week. Exercise will help to pump blood back to the heart and improve the appearance of varicose veins, rather than allowing the blood to accumulate.

  6. Review Your Medications: If you are taking any hormones, discuss them with your personal doctor to see if it may be exacerbating your varicose veins. 

When to See Your Doctor About Your Varicose Veins

I’ve said that you don’t need to worry about varicose veins, but there are occasional instances when you might need to see your doctor. Make an appointment if:

  • your varicose veins are so bad that it is causing your legs or feet to form ulcers. Ulcers are superficial openings on top of the skin.

  • you get a sudden significant amount of fluid retention in your legs

  • your veins start to bleed

  • your vein becomes very stiff and hardened

Of course, not many people want to be placed under the knife, but if your symptoms are so severe that they interfere with your quality of life and you don’t respond to the previously mentioned tips to mitigate your symptoms, then you may want to consider surgical repair as a very last resort. 

Thanks for listening to the Girlfriend MD's Quick and Dirty Tips to Understand Your Body. If you have any medical questions you would like me to address in an upcoming episode email me at girlfriendmd@quickanddirtytips.com.  Adios!

Varicose Vein image from Shutterstock