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Your Health

What you can do about varicose veins

It's difficult to fight the main causes of varicose veins: age, genes, weight gain and female hormones. But you can take steps that may help lessen symptoms and keep varicose veins from getting worse.

These bulging veins, which usually appear on calves and thighs, tend to run in families. They're also more common in women, partly due to hormonal changes. While they usually aren't a serious medical problem, many people find them distressing from a cosmetic standpoint. They also can ache or cause discomfort.

Take our test to see how much you know about varicose veins and what you can do about them.

True or False?

1. Sitting with your legs crossed may worsen varicose veins. T F
2. It's best to avoid exercise when varicose veins ache or cause discomfort. T F
3. You should wear compression stockings at night to treat varicose veins. T F


1. True. Inside veins are valves (flaps) that open and close. They help ensure that blood flows in the right direction – up toward the heart instead of down the leg. In varicose veins, these valves become weakened and do not work well. Blood that cannot flow back up to the heart pools inside veins, causing them to swell.

Anything constricting veins or putting a lot of pressure on them may speed up this process. This includes:

  • Crossing your legs
  • Being overweight
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time
  • Smoking, which affects circulation and harms vein walls

2. False. Regular exercise can actually help ease varicose vein discomfort by improving circulation and muscle tone. Other self-help strategies include:

  • Raising legs above your heart
  • Applying cold compresses to veins
  • Doing simple leg exercises while standing or sitting. For instance, when standing, rise to your tiptoes – for a few seconds, and repeat.

When self-help strategies don't relieve discomfort, support hose, surgery or other medical treatments might help.

3. False. Usually, compression stockings are put on first thing in the morning before legs being to swell and are taken off before bed. Unlike support hose, compression stockings require a prescription based on how much pressure your physician feels is necessary to manage your varicose veins. Check with your doctor regarding how you should be using them, and whether you should wear them at night.