Nobody wants bulging, purple varicose veins on their legs or ankles. However, about half of adults have them, and they become more prevalent with age.
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What causes varicose veins and what can you do about them? Many people think they know, but vascular surgeon Kathleen Boyle, DO, sets the record straight. How many of these seven myths have you believed?
Myth 1: Crossing your legs causes varicose veins.
“No,” says Dr. Boyle. “Crossing legs does not cause varicose veins. Neither does wearing tight shoes or tight pants — although these things can exacerbate varicose veins if you already have them.”
While increased pressure can cause blood to pool inside a vein and make the vein bulge, it’s not external pressure that does it. (Besides that, tight clothing and leg crossing produce only minimal pressure.) It’s more likely due to defective valves in your veins or weakened vein walls.
Myth 2: Pregnancy causes varicose veins.
“Pregnancy can exacerbate varicose veins, but it doesn’t cause them,” says Dr. Boyle. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, varicose veins that become noticeable during pregnancy usually fade after delivery.
Myth 3: If your family members have varicose veins, you will too.
Just because your parents or grandparents had varicose veins doesn’t mean you will. Varicose veins run in the family for only half of all people who have them.
Myth 4: Massage can cure varicose veins.
“Massage may help reduce swelling or discomfort, but will not make varicose veins go away,” says Dr. Boyle. However, there are proven ways to treat them, especially when they’re causing symptoms, such as:
- Swollen legs, ankles and feet.
- Muscle cramps, throbbing, soreness, or aching in the legs.
- Legs that feel “heavy.”
Myth 5: If you pursue advanced treatment for varicose veins, you won’t need to wear compression stockings.
“That’s false,” says Dr. Boyle. “Insurance companies require that you try compression stockings first, before having other treatments. Also, some patients who have treatment need to wear stockings during recovery, for up to six weeks.”
Myth 6: Women should wait to treat varicose veins until they’re done having children.
“Actually, it isn’t necessary to wait,” says Dr. Boyle. “Women may benefit from having early treatment, even before becoming pregnant.”
Myth 7: Tattoos are bad for varicose veins.
According to Dr. Boyle, there’s no relationship between the two.
Can you avoid getting varicose veins altogether?
The truth is, you may not be able to avoid varicose veins. But you can delay their onset or make them less pronounced. Dr. Boyle shares two important tips:
- Maintain a healthy weight. “Being overweight definitely does increase pressure in your veins and can increase your risk of getting varicose veins or worsen their appearance,” she says.
- Wear compression stockings if you stand for long periods of time. Otherwise, take frequent breaks to sit down, elevating your legs when possible. If you sit for long periods, move your legs or stand up every now and then. Regular exercise can help improve circulation and vein health.