Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctors: What can I do about varicose veins?

Q. Varicose veins make my legs look terrible. Is there anything I can do to prevent these ugly veins from getting worse or, preferably, make them go away?

A. Varicose veins occur in about 25% of adults. They represent a failure of the veins to keep blood flowing toward the heart. There is a genetic component to varicose veins, but other risk factors include prolonged standing, multiple pregnancies, and being overweight. Varicose veins may cause legs to ache or throb.

Treatment usually starts with compression stockings, which help squeeze blood out of the legs and back toward the heart. The stockings should exert force below the knee, where the pressure that distends and disrupts veins is the greatest. We also recommend weight loss and keeping the legs elevated. Medications are not very useful.

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