More than 25 million people, 1 in 3 people in the United States, live with varicose veins, according to the Society for Vascular Surgery. Although some people experience no symptoms, other people with varicose veins may experience burning, throbbing, itching, cramping, heaviness, or other pain. Additionally, summer heat is known to irritate varicose veins and intensify symptoms.
Mohammad Reza Amini, MD, director of peripheral arterial and venous disease services at Loma Linda University’s International Heart Institute, offers a breakdown of summer’s impacts on varicose veins and tips for mitigating flare-ups. symptoms.
One of the best first steps you can take to protect your health is to understand your varicose veins and how environmental factors like heat can affect them, says Amini.
Veins are elastic blood vessels that return blood to the heart after traveling through different parts of the body. A series of valves act as one-way gates in the veins, opening and closing to allow blood to travel from various parts of the body to the heart. These venous valves allow blood to flow against gravity.
Over time, however, the valves in the veins can begin to malfunction, enlarge and cause blockages, Amini says. When this happens, the blood begins to flow “back”.
“As blood flows backward, it follows gravity to the calf and ankle, creating pressure in the superficial veins just under the skin,” Amini says. “The pressure creates what we call varicose veins.”
Excessive tension on the leg veins leads to the classic signs of varicose veins – bulging, twisted veins visible below the surface of the skin. Excess blood then pools in the veins, sometimes leading to swelling and other uncomfortable symptoms.
In the summer, our circulatory system fights the effects of high temperatures by increasing the size of our veins, a process known as venodilation, for better blood flow to cool the body. During venodilation, swollen varices enlarge further, filling with extra blood and worsening symptoms. When varicose veins fill with blood and swell even more, Amini says the risk of related health complications also increases.
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Amini outlines several precautions and steps you can take if you’re looking to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of varicose veins.
Start with the basics
Amini advises tackling the fundamental pillars of health first and foremost; it means engaging in whole-body care through proper diet, exercise, and rest.
Obesity is a significant risk factor for the development and worsening of varicose veins because the pressure of extra body fat compresses the walls of the veins and damages the valves inside. So, sticking to a heart-healthy diet—Mediterranean-style and low-carb and low-fat diets—can help achieve or maintain a healthy weight and benefit the entire circulatory system.
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“If you can lose weight on these diets, it will help your veins,” he says.
Any exercise that you enjoy is a good option; in the summer, Amini suggests water activities as a fun and healthy form of exercise. One benefit of swimming is its ability to help joint problems, like arthritis, which some people with varicose veins may also suffer from, says Amini.
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Raise your legs to heart level
When you’re seated or at rest, Amini says supporting your ankles to reach the level of your heart will help with blood drainage in your legs, reduce swelling and relieve other symptoms. He recommends that patients with varicose veins elevate their legs 3 or 4 times a day for about 15 minutes at a time.
If you have to sit for a long time and don’t have the ability to elevate your legs, such as on a long flight, Amini says standing up occasionally to flex and stretch your legs helps maintain blood flow.
Sports compression stockings
On the other hand, if you plan to be on your feet for a long time throughout the day, Amini recommends wearing compression stockings. These elastic stockings tighten the veins and prevent blood and fluids from descending and accumulating in the legs.
Staying cool in the shade will keep body temperature in check and protect against harmful UV rays to which some people with varicose veins may be more sensitive, says Amini. Many varicose veins suffer from ankle swelling due to blood pooling in the legs, which causes irritation, discoloration, redness and tenderness on the surface of the skin.
“The skin in the area where you bulge loses a layer of protection over time, making it more susceptible to UV damage,” says Amini.
Any type of UV protection is essential, he says: find a shaded hiding place, wear long, light and loose clothing and apply sunscreen regularly.
Talk to your doctor
If your varicose vein swelling is difficult to control, Amini recommends exploring treatment options with your doctor. Medicines can help reduce swelling that irritates nerves and causes neuropathy, numbness, or leg pain. You may also want to consider the range of procedures offered to treat varicose veins. You and your provider can weigh the options and make shared decisions on how best to proceed to relieve your varicose vein symptoms.
At Loma Linda University’s International Heart Institute, physicians are committed to providing patients with compassionate, comprehensive, and personalized cardiovascular care. To learn more, please visit lluh.org/heart-vascular or call 1-800-468-5432 to schedule an appointment.