Varicose veins are a common condition in which enlarged veins are visible through the skin. Though varicose veins are usually unrelated to any serious medical conditions, some people feel uncomfortable because of their prominent blue or purple appearance or the itching, tingling, or discomfort that sometimes accompany them. Fortunately, you may be able to reduce their symptoms through healthy lifestyle habits and natural remedies. Let's discuss what causes varicose veins, how to know if they are merely a cosmetic concern or an indication of something deeper, and what home remedies can help.
What Are Varicose Veins?
Veins are varicose (pronounced VAR-ih-kos) when blood pressure or valve issues cause them to become swollen, twisted, and visible just under the surface of the skin.
Varicose veins can also form deeper inside the body, but typically they appear as bulging blue or purple veins on the legs or ankles. They occur more frequently in women than men. Experts think that the hormone estrogen, which is more dominant in women, may influence vein health.
You can visually diagnose varicose veins yourself, or have it done at a doctor's office via an ultrasound test.
Common Varicose Veins Symptoms
In some people, the only symptom of varicose veins is their blue or purple appearance. For others, varicose veins cause uncomfortable symptoms such as:
- Swollen ankles or feet
- An achy or heavy feeling in the legs
- Throbbing, burning, tingling, or warmth in the legs
- Leg cramps or pain
- Skin discoloration
Spider vs. Varicose Veins
Spider veins are named for their appearance. With spider veins, tiny red or blue capillaries — the smallest blood vessels in the body — show beneath the skin in a spider web-like pattern.
Spider veins are smaller and finer than varicose veins and do not bulge out of the skin. They most commonly appear on the legs or face, and are usually a cosmetic issue. Similar issues cause both varicose and spider veins: poor circulation, weak blood vessels, a sedentary lifestyle, and lack of exercise.
10 Natural Remedies for Varicose Veins
We will focus on remedies for varicose veins, though some of these also may help spider veins, as well. While these natural treatments may not completely eliminate varicose veins, they can provide symptom relief. Here are a few ideas to help with your varicose veins.
1. Use Essential Oils
Massage therapy cannot cure varicose veins, but it can help improve blood circulation in the leg muscles and reduce some of the swelling and discomfort associated with the condition. Some massage therapists use essential oil to boost the benefits of massage therapy. Frankincense, chamomile, clary sage, geranium, lemon, lavender, and cypress oils help reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and decrease swelling. A 2017 scientific review found that 20 percent of all essential oil use is to relieve inflammation. Rockrose and bay oils are particularly helpful for varicose veins.
Physical activity encourages blood to move through the veins, improving overall muscle tone and circulatory health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week.
Activities like walking and bicycling provide the leg movement that supports vein health. The best shoes are low-heeled and fit snugly around your foot and ankle, which builds muscle tone in your calf muscles and promotes improved circulation. If you are on a long flight, get up every couple hours and walk around. Likewise, at work, make sure to stretch your legs and walk around to promote healthy circulation.
Make sure you stretch your legs and walk around every couple of hours, especially during work or long flights.
3. Take Your Vitamins
Several vitamins support cardiovascular health, which can help reduce your chance of getting varicose veins and reduce their symptoms if they do appear. Research has linked low vitamin K with circulatory concerns and age-related vein calcification that contributes to varicose veins.[7, 8]
Vitamin C plays a role in the production of collagen and elastin — proteins that affect vein elasticity. Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant that works to keep free radicals from damaging blood cells. Vitamins B-3, B-12, and folic acid promote healthy circulation. Make sure you get enough of these vitamins either through your diet or plant-based supplements.
4. Take Horse Chestnut
Instead of taking medication for a mere cosmetic issue, consider horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). Horse chestnut seeds and leaves are a natural remedy for circulation issues, including varicose veins.
Studies have found that this herb promotes healthy blood circulation and reduces systemic redness and swelling. Scientists believe horse chestnut may "seal" leaky or inflamed capillaries, improve vein wall elasticity, and encourage normal blood density. Use horse chestnut cream on the legs to soothe the sores that appear with varicose veins.
5. Change Your Diet
Constipation and straining to move your bowels puts increased pressure on veins and blood vessels throughout your body, not just at the rectum. A high-fiber diet can prevent constipation and keep varicose veins from worsening or manifesting in different ways, including hemorrhoids — which are bulging veins in the anus.[10, 11]
Drink plenty of water to stay well-hydrated and also discourage constipation, hemorrhoids, and varicose veins. Eat foods rich in flavonoids, also called bioflavonoids, such as berries, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, cayenne pepper, and green tea. These offer an abundance of health benefits, including improving blood circulation, reducing arterial pressure, and relaxing blood vessels.
6. Wear Compression Stockings
Compression stockings put firm pressure on the legs, which promotes blood flow toward the heart.
Three different levels of compression hose exist. Reinforced pantyhose offer the lowest level of support; you can buy them anywhere you get pantyhose. Compression hose provides a higher level of pressure. The most intensive compression stocking is available by prescription and requires a special fitting session.
Compression hose may seem like shapewear (think Spanx) but it supports healthy circulation. Conversely, shapewear can actually restrict blood flow — especially if you buy a size too small. Put compression stockings on first thing in the morning and remove them at night for maximum benefit. Do not wear compression stockings at night as it may reduce and constrict circulation in your legs if you are not moving, as you do during the day.
7. Elevate Your Legs
Experts recommend you elevate your legs six to twelve inches above your heart to reduce the symptoms of varicose veins and possibly reduce their unsightly appearance. Not only does it feel great to elevate your legs, but it also reduces the force of gravity that constantly weighs on your muscles, veins, and circulation. While sitting or lying down, put a couple of pillows under your legs to elevate them. You or your partner can massage your legs while you are relaxing, as well.
8. Take Pine Bark Extract
Pine bark extract is another herbal remedy that may help with cramps and swelling associated with varicose veins. One study compared the effects of pine bark extract to compression hose on varicose veins in women who had given birth. After six months, women taking the extract has fewer varicose veins, fewer spider veins, and fewer symptoms than those who used compression hose — and these positive changes persisted for 12 months. This reduced the patients’ desire for surgery, and they left the study feeling more satisfied.
9. Apply Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is a liquid astringent made from the twigs, leaves, and bark of the witch hazel plant (Hamamelis virginiana). Witch hazel contains tannins and volatile oils that tone and soothe the skin and help constrict blood vessels.
Witch hazel should be applied topically. For relief from discomfort, itching, and swelling, thoroughly soak a washcloth with witch hazel and place it onto the area of concern. Or you can try adding 1/2 to 1 cup of witch hazel to a warm bath and soak your legs in it.
10. Try Herbal Supplements
Some herbal supplements promote healthy circulation. In addition to witch hazel, horse chestnut, and pine bark extract, gotu kola (Centella Asiatica) is another supplement known to support healthy veins.
Popular Medical Treatments for Varicose Veins
A number of medical treatments are used to alleviate the discomfort and appearance of varicose veins, either together with or in place of natural remedies. We recommend trying natural remedies first and using more invasive techniques as a later resort, but, for the sake of complete information, here are the three most commonly used procedures for varicose veins.
Laser therapy is a common outpatient treatment for varicose veins. There are multiple variations, but the two most popular are endovenous laser ablation (EVLA) and endovenous radiofrequency ablation (RFA).
Both are non-surgical methods of treating varicose veins. With EVLA, laser beams heat the veins and with RFA, lasers give off high-frequency radio waves until abnormal veins collapse. The body reabsorbs the collapsed varicose veins within a few weeks.
Sclerotherapy is another non-surgical, outpatient medical treatment for varicose veins. Doctors will inject either a liquid solution or a foam into the varicose veins under ultrasound guidance.
Today, most sclerotherapists use a liquid solution that contains chemicals like sodium tetradecyl sulfate or polidocanol. These injected substances damage the internal lining of the vein, which causes the blood inside to clot so the body can reabsorb them. We do not recommend introducing chemicals into your bloodstream in this way.
Endoscopic Vein Surgery
Sometimes, surgery is a possible treatment, but use it as a last resort. If your varicose veins cause you extreme discomfort or turn into ulcers, you might want to seek the advice of your healthcare professional.
In rare cases, varicose veins may carry the risk of blood clots, and your healthcare provider may recommend endoscopic vein surgery. Endoscopic surgery requires a few weeks of rest before you can resume your normal activities.
What Causes Varicose Veins?
Poor circulation varicose veins. Increased blood pressure in the veins and weakened vein walls or valves may cause veins to bulge out. However, several factors increase your risk of getting varicose veins. Being aware of how lifestyle choices affect vein health can help you prevent varicose veins, especially if you adopt healthy habits in your younger years.
As you age, your veins become less elastic and flexible, which can cause blood to pool and clot. Older adults might also be more sedentary than they were during their younger years, which increases their odds of getting varicose veins. The condition affects up to 35 percent of all people in the United States, especially those who have other risk factors.
If members of your family have had varicose veins, you are more likely to develop them. According to the National Institutes of Health, around half of all people with varicose veins have a family history of the condition.
Spider veins are also hereditary. When these conditions do run in families, both varicose veins and spider veins can indicate conditions associated with vein weakness, like chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). Becoming aware of your family medical history can help you stay healthier and make lifestyle choices to stay one step ahead.
Leg veins circulate blood in one direction — back to the heart. Along the way, the blood passes through a series of valves that open in a one-way direction. High blood pressure in the legs, called chronic venous hypertension, happens when vein valves become leaky or weak. Over time, blood gets trapped behind the valves and causes the swelling, leg cramps, and discoloration of varicose veins. Crossing your legs does not cause varicose veins, nor does too-tight clothing. However, they may worsen the condition once you have them.
Being overweight or obese puts added pressure on your venous valves, which may lead to varicose veins. Sedentary lifestyle habits often accompany excess weight, and this further contributes to varicose veins. Varicose veins may not be visible in overweight or obese individuals because of excess fat.
Too Much Standing or Sitting
People who live a more sedentary lifestyle have a higher chance of getting varicose veins. Sitting for long periods of time doesn't allow blood to circulate properly and it can pool in the legs.
Too much time on your feet can cause varicose veins for a different reason — it increases the pressure on veins as gravity draws the blood down your legs. One study of hairdressers — who spend a lot of time on their feet — showed that after age 45, varicose veins became an occupational hazard.
Experts recommend standing up and moving around every 30 minutes if you are sedentary, or taking a break to sit down (and elevate your feet, if possible) every 30 minutes if you spend hours at a time standing up.
Many pregnant women develop varicose veins during pregnancy because the extra weight of the growing fetus puts pressure on the circulatory system, especially in the legs. Overall blood volume also increases during pregnancy, which can make veins stretch and dilate. For some women, multiple pregnancies make varicose veins worse. For others, varicose veins disappear after childbirth.
When varicose veins go untreated, they can cause significant discomfort and even disrupt daily life. In addition to making the legs feel warm, heavy, and achy, varicose veins can break through the skin and cause skin ulceration, which might itch and cause pain.
One study of more than 425,000 adults in Taiwan found that people with varicose veins have a significantly higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). People with DVT should take precautions when traveling by air, making sure to move around often and explore other preventative measures with their healthcare provider.
If you have varicose veins, stay aware of your health history, and act accordingly. If you are overweight or do not exercise, incorporate physical activity into your lifestyle. Even elevating your legs, taking the stairs at work, or increasing your activity level can help. If you have circulatory concerns, try supplements known to help. Find out your family history and follow a healthy diet full of antioxidant-rich vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Points to Remember
Varicose veins are a very common condition in which twisted, enlarged veins in the legs become visible through the skin and bulge outward. People with varicose veins may experience discomfort, swelling, tingling, and itching. Family history, age, weight, and lifestyle all influence your likelihood of developing varicose veins. They are addressed with natural remedies and sometimes minimally-invasive medical procedures.
While options for medical intervention include laser therapy, sclerotherapy, or endoscopic vein surgery, first consider trying less-invasive natural remedies. Effective strategies to reduce the symptoms and appearance of varicose veins include massage, elevating your legs six to twelve inches above your heart, and wearing compression stockings. You can increase your intake of vitamins C, E, and K, or try supplements like horse chestnut or pine bark extract — both of which have shown positive results in studies.
Have you tried any of these remedies before? Please tell us about your experience below!
- Raffetto JD, et al. Estrogen receptor-mediated enhancement of venous relaxation in female rat. Implications in sex-related differences in varicose veins. J Vasc Surg. 2010;51(4):972-981.
- Lin F, et al. The management of varicose veins. Int Surgery. 2015;100(1):185-189.
- Varicose Veins. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health. Accessed 18 Oct 2018.
- Varicose Veins: 7 Myths You Shouldn't Believe. Cleveland Clinic. Updated 2 Dec 2015. Accessed 18 Oct 2018.
- Orchard A, van Vuuren S. Commercial essential oils as potential antimicrobials to treat skin diseases. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:4517971.
- Physical Activity Guidelines. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated 16 July 2018. Accessed 18 Oct 2018.
- Wen L, et al. Vitamin K-dependent proteins involved in bone and cardiovascular health. Mol Med Rep. 2018;18(1):3-15.
- Geleijnse J, et al. Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: the Rotterdam study. J Nutr. 2004;134(11):3100-3105.
- Underland V, et al. Cochrane summary of findings: horse chestnut seed extract for chronic venous insufficiency. Glob Adv Health Med. 2012;1(1):122-123.
- Holdstock JM, et al. Hemorrhoids are associated with internal iliac vein reflux in up to one-third of women presenting with varicose veins associated with pelvic vein reflux. Phlebology. 2015;30(2):133-9.
- Chauhan R, Kapoor V. Association of varicose veins of lower extremities with varicocele and hemorrhoids: a case report. Med J Armed Forces India. 1996;52(1):59-60.
- Piazza G. Varicose Veins. Circulation. 2014;130:582–587.
- Belcaro G, et al. Postpartum varicose veins: supplementation with Pycnogenol or elastic compression—a 12-month follow-up. Int J Angiol. 2017; 26(01): 012-019.
- Varicose Veins — Endovenous Laser Therapy. Circulation Foundation: The Vascular Charity. Accessed 18 Oct 2018.
- Kayssi A, et al. Endovenous radiofrequency ablation for the treatment of varicose veins. Can J Surg. 2015;58(2):85-86.
- Varicose Veins - Injection Treatment or Sclerotherapy. Circulation Foundation: The Vascular Charity. Accessed 18 Oct 2018.
- Hager Dr. E. Varicose Veins. Society for Vascular Surgery. Accessed 18 Oct 2018.
- Chen C-L, Guo H-R. Varicose veins in hairdressers and associated risk factors: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health. 2014;14:885.
- Leg Veins: Why We Get Them and How Dermatologists Treat Them. American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed 18 Oct 2018.
- Varicose Veins and Spider Veins. Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Updated 25 Sep 2018. Accessed 18 Oct 2018.
- Chang S-L, et al. Association of Varicose Veins With Incident Venous Thromboembolism and Peripheral Artery Disease. JAMA. 2018;319(8):807-817.
- Blood Clots and Travel: What You Need to Know. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated 5 Feb 2018. Accessed 18 Oct 2018.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.