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Varicose Veins


What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are veins that become large, twisted, and swollen. They are common on the back of the calves, knees, and thighs. Varicose veins are caused by valves in your veins that do not work properly. This causes blood to collect and increase pressure in the veins of your legs. The increased pressure causes your veins to stretch, get larger, swell, and twist.

What increases my risk for varicose veins?

  • Pregnancy
  • A family history of varicose veins
  • Overweight or obese
  • Age, especially 50 years or older
  • Sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Wearing tight clothing
  • Smoking cigarettes

What are the signs and symptoms of varicose veins?

Your symptoms may be worse after you stand or sit for long periods of time. You may have any of the following:

  • Blue, purple, or bulging veins in your legs
  • Pain, swelling, or muscle cramps in your legs
  • Feeling of heaviness in your legs

How are varicose veins diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your legs and ask about your medical history. You may need a test called a Doppler ultrasound or duplex scan. This test uses sound waves to show pictures of your veins on a monitor. It is done to show how blood flows through your veins and to check for blood clots.

How are varicose veins treated?

Treatment of varicose veins aims to decrease symptoms, improve appearance, and prevent further problems. It will depend on which veins are affected and how severe your condition is. You may need any of the following:

  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask how to take this medicine safely.
  • Procedures may be done to remove your varicose veins. Your healthcare provider may inject a solution or use a laser to close the varicose veins. Surgery to remove long veins may also be done. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about procedures used to treat varicose veins.

What can I do to manage my symptoms?

  • Wear pressure stockings. The stockings are tight and put pressure on your legs. They improve blood flow and help prevent clots.

  • Elevate your legs. Keep them above the level of your heart for 15 to 30 minutes several times a day. This will help blood to flow back to your heart.
  • Do not sit or stand for long periods of time. This can cause the blood to collect in your legs and make your symptoms worse. Walk around for a few minutes every hour to get blood moving in your legs.
  • Do not wear tight clothing or shoes. Do not wear high-heeled shoes. Do not wear clothes that are tight around the waist.
  • Get plenty of exercise. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise can decrease your blood pressure and improve your health. Bend or rotate your ankles several times every hour. This will help blood to flow back to the heart.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Your heart works harder when you are overweight. This can make varicose vein worse. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause blood vessel damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a wound that does not heal or is infected.
  • You have an injury that has broken your skin and caused your varicose veins to bleed.
  • Your leg is swollen and hard.
  • You have pain in your leg that does not go away or gets worse.
  • You notice that your legs or feet are turning blue or black.
  • Your leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your symptoms get worse or they keep you from doing your daily activities.
  • You have an injury that has caused your varicose veins to bleed underneath your skin.
  • You have a rash on your leg.
  • Your symptoms keep you from doing your daily activities.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.