Varicose veins are thick, ropy blue or purple veins in the legs that can be seen near the skin’s surface. These swollen and bulging veins cause a variety of symptoms, including itching, pain, and a feeling of heaviness in your legs.
Veins swell up when the valves that control the flow of blood from your legs up to your torso fail. The weak, broken valves allow blood to back up and pool inside your leg veins.
You’re more likely to develop varicose veins as you get older and your veins become weaker. Pregnancy can also trigger the growth of these veins because it slows the flow of blood out of your legs in the midst of an increased blood volume.
The best way to keep the itchiness of varicose veins at bay is to manage the veins themselves. Keeping your legs elevated and making other lifestyle changes can prevent the varicose veins you have from getting worse. These measures may also help slow down new veins from forming. If these measures don’t work, a few procedures can close or remove damaged veins.
Varicose veins itch because of a condition called venous stasis dermatitis. When blood builds up in damaged vessels, it can eventually leak out into the skin. The leaky blood vessels and associated inflammation may lead to not enough oxygen reaching your skin.
The skin over the veins becomes red and itchy. Red or purple sores can form. These sores may ooze fluid and then scab over.
As venous stasis dermatitis gets worse, the skin over your lower legs and feet turns red and scaly. The itch can become very intense.
This condition is also called stasis dermatitis or venous eczema.
To treat itchy varicose veins, you’ll typically see a dermatologist or a vein specialist. Treatments for this condition include:
A corticosteroid or calcineurin inhibitor cream can help bring down inflammation in your legs and relieve the itch.
This type of medicine blocks a chemical called histamine, which makes your skin itch.
If the sores over your varicose veins become infected with a bacterium, your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection. You can take antibiotics by mouth or rub them directly onto the sore.
If you have an open wound, your doctor might place a special covering over the wound to help it heal. They may also use a compression stocking or wrap to help reduce swelling and improve blood circulation.
Surgery is the only way to cure itchy varicose veins. If the condition doesn’t improve with other treatments, your doctor might recommend one of these procedures:
For this procedure, your doctor injects a special medication into your veins. The chemical irritates the veins and causes scar tissue to form. Eventually, the treated veins close up.
After three to four months, your varicose veins should disappear. A newer version of this treatment uses foam to close the veins.
This treatment uses an intense light to get rid of varicose veins. It works on smaller veins. You may need more than one treatment to erase veins completely.
Endovenous ablation therapy
For this procedure, your doctor makes a very small skin incision and inserts a thin tube called a catheter into the vein. Radiofrequency energy or a laser at the tip of the catheter heats up and closes the vein.
Endoscopic vein surgery
During this surgical treatment, your doctor makes a small skin incision and inserts a thin tube with a camera on the end into the vein. A special device near the end of the camera closes off the vein. This procedure is usually reserved for severe varicose veins that have caused open sores to form in the skin.
Vein stripping and ligation
This procedure ties off and removes the vein through small incisions. It’s used for more severe varicose veins. You may be asleep during the surgery.
This procedure involves your doctor making small cuts in your skin and removing veins that are close to the surface. You’ll be awake and local anesthesia will numb the areas near the veins being worked on.
Here are a few tips to help you manage your itchy varicose veins at home.
Elevate your legs
Prop up your legs on a stool or pillow once every 2 hours for about 15 minutes. Also, try to keep your legs raised while you sleep. Placing your legs above your heart will keep blood flowing in the right direction, and prevent it from pooling in your veins.
Wear compression stockings
Tight, compression stockings put pressure on your legs to improve your venous blood circulation and bring down swelling. You can buy them over the counter at your local drugstore, or you can obtain them with a prescription from your doctor.
Buying prescription stockings will help ensure you get a pair that fits you well, as your doctor will be able to help choose the compression strength best for you. Prescription stockings also provide more support than over-the-counter ones.
Rub on a moisturizer
Apply a moisturizer to your skin a few times a day to relieve dryness. A thick emollient cream or petroleum jelly works well. Use a cream that’s gentle and doesn’t contain any fragrance or dye.
Here are a few other ways to care for your legs and prevent your varicose veins from getting worse:
- Take a walk or do other aerobic exercises every day to keep your blood moving through your veins.
- Lose weight if you’re overweight. Excess weight puts more pressure on your veins.
- Don’t wear clothes that have a tight waist or tight cuffs on the legs. The pressure can make varicose veins worse.
- Avoid standing in one place or sitting for long periods of time. Get up and walk around every 30 minutes.
Itchy varicose veins can be uncomfortable, but they’re not usually serious. Lifestyle changes like wearing compression stockings and elevating your legs will improve blood flow in your legs. That should help cut down on the itch.
If the itchiness and other symptoms really bother you, see a dermatologist or vein specialist (phlebologist). You might need surgery to close off or remove the affected vein. Many procedures are minimally invasive and you’ll go home on the same day.