Chronic Venous Disease: Varicose Veins And Venous Insufficiency
Dietary And Lifestyle Considerations
Avoid Prolonged Sedentary Periods and Exercise Regularly
Physical activity—even small amounts—encourages return of venous blood from the legs back to the heart by activating the pumping action of the musculature (Bergan 2006). In contrast, standing or sitting for long periods can cause elevated pressure in the veins, which may contribute to the development of varicose veins (NIH 2014c; Scherger 2012). In a randomized controlled trial, increased physical activity consisting of leg exercises and walking significantly improved wound healing in patients with venous leg ulcers (Heinen 2012). Suggestions for avoiding prolonged sedentary periods include:
- Breaking from standing or sitting as often as possible to move the legs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends standing and walking at least every two to three hours to help prevent deep vein thrombosis (CDC 2017).
- Flexing ankles frequently at work and during long car or plane trips. Avoid crossing legs while sitting. Of note, extended air travel is often thought to increase risk of venous thrombosis. However, any extended travel, not just by plane, is associated with increased venous thrombosis risk. There are no factors unique to air travel that influence blood clotting to any greater degree than other forms of travel that entail extended sitting; indeed, the term “travelers’ thrombosis” has been proposed by the Aerospace Medical Association’s Air Transport Medicine Committee in attempt to eliminate the misconception that flying uniquely increases risk. Therefore, prolonged sitting during travel, or any other setting for that matter, should be avoided if possible. Travelers should stand frequently and walk or exercise their legs if their surroundings permit it (Johnston 2014).
- Elevating legs when lying down or sleeping.
- Raising legs above heart level whenever possible (Fort 2017a; NIH 2014c; Scherger 2012).
Avoid Tight Clothing and Restrictive Footwear
Tight clothes, especially around the waist and upper thighs, can exacerbate varicose veins. Wearing shoes with lower heels can strengthen calf muscles, which promotes better blood flow through the veins (NIH 2014c).
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being obese or overweight increases the risk of chronic venous disease and varicose veins (Fort 2017b; Eberhardt 2014; NIH 2016; Danielsson 2002). Weight loss reduces pressure on leg veins and improves blood circulation. It also increases energy, mobility, and overall health and wellness (NIH 2014c; Fort 2017b; Scherger 2012).
Eat a High-Fiber Diet
A diet lacking in fiber may be associated with small, hard stools and the need to strain to have a bowel movement. Straining during bowel movements increases intra-abdominal pressure that contributes to increased pressure in the veins of the legs. Ultimately, chronic straining resulting from a low-fiber diet can weaken vein walls and lead to varicose veins (MacKay 2001).
A high-fiber diet can help prevent varicose veins by producing soft, well-formed stools to ease bowel movements and eliminate chronic straining (MacKay 2001). Greater intake of dietary fiber also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease (Threapleton 2013).