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Varicose and other vein problems - self-care

Blood flow is slow from the veins in your legs back to your heart. Blood tends to pool in your legs, primarily when you stand. As a result, you may have:

  • Varicose veins
  • Swelling in your legs
  • Skin changes or even a skin ulcer (sore) in your lower legs

These problems most often get worse over time. Learn self-care that you can do at home to:

  • Slow down the development of varicose veins
  • Decrease any discomfort
  • Prevent skin ulcers

Wear Compression Stockings

Compression stockings help with swelling in your legs. They can gently squeeze your legs to move blood up your legs.

Your health care provider will help you find where to buy these and how to use them.

Make Time to Exercise

Do gentle exercises to build muscle and to move blood up your legs. Here are some suggestions:

  • Lie on your back. Move your legs like you are riding a bike. Extend one leg straight up and bend the other leg. Then switch your legs.
  • Stand on a step on the balls of your feet. Keep your heels over the edge of the step. Stand on your toes to raise your heels, then let your heels drop below the step. Stretch your calf. Do 20 to 40 repeats of this stretch.
  • Take a gentle walk. Walk for 30 minutes 4 times a week.
  • Take a gentle swim. Swim for 30 minutes 4 times a week.

Put Your Feet up

Raising your legs helps with pain and swelling. You can:

  • Raise your legs on a pillow when you are resting or sleeping.
  • Raise your legs above your heart 3 or 4 times a day for 15 minutes at a time.

DO NOT sit or stand for long periods of time. When you do sit or stand, bend and straighten your legs every few minutes to keep the blood in your legs moving back to your heart.

Take Care of Your Skin

Keeping your skin well moisturized helps it stay healthy. Talk with your provider before using any lotions, creams, or antibiotic ointments. DO NOT use:

  • Topical antibiotics, such as neomycin
  • Drying lotions, such as calamine
  • Lanolin, a natural moisturizer
  • Benzocaine or other creams that numb the skin

Watch for skin sores on your leg, mainly around your ankle. Take care of sores right away to prevent infection.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your provider if:

  • Varicose veins are painful.
  • Varicose veins are getting worse.
  • Putting your legs up or not standing for a long time is not helping.
  • You have a fever or redness in your leg.
  • You have a sudden increase in pain or swelling.
  • You get leg sores.

Alternative Names

Venous insufficiency - self-care; Venous stasis ulcers - self-care; Lipodermatosclerosis - self-care

References

Ginsberg JS. Peripheral venous disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 81.

Goodney PP. Patient clinical evaluation. In: Cronenwett JL, Johnston KW, eds. Rutherford's Vascular Surgery. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 14.

Hafner A, Sprecher E. Ulcers. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 105.

Review Date 12/10/2016

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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