The Impact of Cold Weather on Circulation and Varicose Veins

August 1, 2023 The Vein Institute

For anyone who suffers from poor circulation or varicose veins,  it’s important to understand how cold weather may be potentially dangerous. Cooler days increase the risk of serious illness from coughs, lung and heart problems, or the flu but they can also have an effect on your veins. Learn about the impact of cold weather on circulation and varicose veins plus tips on how you can stay healthy this winter.

The impact of cold weather on circulation

Scientists have dubbed this the winter cardiovascular disease phenomenon, the observation that cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and pulmonary embolism occur more frequently in the fall and winter months.

One explanation is that cold weather causes veins and arteries to constrict, putting immense strain on patients whose coronary circulation is already compromised. This extra demand may prevent the heart muscle from receiving adequate oxygen, leading to a host of cardiovascular events and disorders.

Another theory is that the sudden drop in temperature results in the body having to work harder to regulate its own temperature. During this process, all the thermal stress can lead to increased blood viscosity, stickiness, and formation of blood clots.

What’s the impact of cold weather on varicose veins?

Fortunately, cold weather isn’t all bad news if you suffer from venous insufficiency. While warm weather can impair healthy circulation by causing veins to dilate and the blood to pool, cooler weather has the opposite effect.

Cooler temperatures can ease the discomfort of varicose veins. Symptoms such as swelling, cramping, and painful legs can become less server as the temperature drops.

However, while cold weather has some benefits, it also has a couple of downsides.

  • First, constricted blood flow means slower overall circulation. Varicose veins already make it difficult to deliver vital oxygen and nutrients into your tissues, so slower blood flow will complicate matters further. 
  • Second, cold weather tends to dry out the skin, meaning it can make the itchiness and flakiness associated with varicose eczema worse. 
  • Third, when it’s cold, your blood needs to cycle through the heart and extremities faster to keep you warm, increasing the pressure on your veins. While the increase is perfectly normal, it can be detrimental to the damaged varicose veins.
  • Lastly, we tend to be less active in the winter. Unlike arteries, your veins rely on the movement of your muscles to pump blood. Gentle exercises like walking, yoga, and swimming help tone the muscle that supports vein function and for boosting circulation. Doing less of these activities and more sitting and laying around means your blood is at more risk of pooling.

Tips to encourage healthy blood circulation during colder months

Stay active – while it may seem daunting to keep your exercise regime going when it’s cold outside, it’s important to keep moving. Invest in some seasonal clothing and shoes to help you stay comfortable and warm during outdoor activities.

If you can’t get outside, another option is to regularly walk around the house or office to prevent yourself from sitting or standing for too long. If your building has stairs, use them during lunchtime to get your steps in and facilitate healthy blood circulation.

Avoid fatty and salty foods – it may be tempting to indulge in rich ‘comfort’ foods during the winter months as you’re bundled comfortably on the couch. Doctors normally advise patients to limit their intake of salty foods as these can promote unnecessary fluid retention.

Furthermore, foods rich in saturated fats can impair your endothelial cell function and eventually your overall vascular system. Instead, choose plenty of colourful fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fibre and nutritional content.

Wear compression stockings – To ease symptoms and discourage new varicose veins from forming, particularly during the colder months, compression stockings have been shown to promote circulation and significantly improve venous insufficiency.

Unlike regular socks or stockings, compressional garments use specially designed elastic material to gradually tighten and support the surface veins in the lower legs. This strategically applied pressure helps swollen veins to constrict and propels the flow of blood back to the heart more efficiently.

Winter is the best time to treat your varicose veins

The best way to avoid the discomfort associated with varicose veins is to have them treated by a vein specialist. Fortunately, there are several highly effective non-surgical approaches available that can be performed during a quick visit to our clinic.

Not to mention, winter is the best time to treat varicose veins. 

  • Cold weather may help lessen treatment side effects like aches and swelling
  • It will be easier to wear the compression stockings you’ll likely be prescribed after your treatment
  • It’s a good idea to keep the sun off your treatment site for the first few days as UV rays may cause skin discolouration 
  • And lastly, as we mentioned, we’re all a little less active in the winter. While you should do gentle exercises like yoga and walking after treatment, you shouldn’t do anything strenuous like running or weightlifting.

In summary

For those with varicose veins, winter has some pros and cons due to the cold tightening vein walls but increasing pressure on the veins and making us less active (and a little dehydrated). At the same time, it’s the best time to seek treatment. 

Seek expert advice

The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive program using non-surgical laser treatment techniques. To book a consultation and discuss our treatment program, call  13 VEINS (13 83467). Or, make an inquiry via the Contact Us page.

See more vein facts: Answering Your Vein FAQs