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Varicose Veins: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins near the surface of the skin. They develop most often in the legs and ankles.

Some people may be more likely than others to get varicose veins because of several things. These include aging, pregnancy, being overweight, or because a parent has them. Standing or sitting for long periods of time can also increase risk of varicose veins.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Wear compression stockings during the day to help relieve symptoms and improve blood flow. Talk to your doctor about which ones to get and where to get them.
  • Prop up your legs at or above the level of your heart when possible. Try to do this for about 30 minutes at a time, about 3 times a day. This helps keep the blood from pooling in your lower legs and improves blood flow to the rest of your body.
  • Avoid sitting and standing for long periods. This puts added stress on your veins.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you need to.
  • Try to take several short walks every day.
  • Get at least 2½ hours of moderate to vigorous exercise a week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
  • Do calf muscle exercises every day. When you are sitting down, rotate your feet at the ankles in both directions, making small circles. Extend your legs, and point and flex your feet.
  • Avoid crossing your legs at the knees when sitting.
  • Take good care of your skin. Treat cuts and scrapes on your legs right away. Keep your legs clean and moisturized to prevent drying and cracking. Prevent sunburns.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make varicose veins worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • If you bump your leg so hard that you know it is likely to bruise, prop up your leg and apply ice or cold packs right away. Apply the ice or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • If you cut or scratch the skin over a vein, it may bleed a lot. Prop up your leg and apply firm pressure for a full 15 minutes.

If you have a blood clot in a varicose vein, you may have tenderness and swelling over the vein. The vein may feel firm. Be sure to call your doctor or nurse advice line right away if you have these symptoms. If your doctor has told you how to care for the clot, follow the instructions. Care may include the following:

  • Prop up your leg and apply a damp cloth that is warm or cool.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Swelling in the leg or groin.
    • A colour change on the leg or groin. The skin may be reddish or purplish, depending on your usual skin colour.
  • A varicose vein begins to bleed and you cannot stop it.
  • You have a tender lump in your leg.
  • You get an open sore.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your varicose vein symptoms do not improve with home treatment.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.