Approximately 25 million Americans have varicose veins. For
some, they're simply a cosmetic concern. But for many others, varicose
veins can cause significant pain and discomfort. Sometimes they even
lead to more serious problems.
Exercise does not cause varicose veins. In fact, exercise
may help prevent the problem, while excessive sitting or standing is more
likely to aggravate it. The underlying cause is malfunction of the
valves in the veins that normally allow blood to flow only toward your heart. If the valves are defective, blood may pool
in the veins, causing them to dilate and become varicose (meaning twisted and swollen).
Most varicose veins develop in the legs near the surface of the skin; they are more common in women than in men. Factors that may contribute to their development include an inherited tendency to defective valves, increased pressure in the veins during pregnancy, obesity and past episodes of clots in the veins (thrombophlebitis).
Fortunately, treatment usually doesn't mean a hospital stay or a long, uncomfortable recovery. New and less invasive techniques generally allow varicose veins to be dealt with on an outpatient basis.
Inside your veins
Arteries carry blood from your heart to the rest of your
body tissues. Veins return blood from your body to your heart so the blood
can be repumped.
To return blood to your heart, the veins in your legs must work against the natural effect of gravity. This is accomplished with the help of muscle contractions in your lower legs (which act as pumps), toned, elastic vein walls and tiny one-way valves in your veins. The valves open as blood flows toward your heart and close to stop blood from flowing backwards.
As you get older, though, your veins can lose elasticity, causing them to stretch and balloon out. When that happens, the one-way valves may not function properly. Blood that should be moving toward your heart may flow backward, stretching the walls of the veins that may then become visible as varicose veins (varicose comes from the Latin root varix for "twisted").
Varicose veins usually appear between ages 30 and 70 and progressively get worse. Frequently they're hereditary. Women are more likely than men to have them, in part because female hormones tend to relax vein walls. Other contributing factors can include pregnancy, illness, injury and being overweight.
Signs and symptoms
You may have symptoms even before varicose veins appear.
Symptoms can include an achy or heavy feeling in your legs and burning,
throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in your lower legs. Prolonged
sitting or standing tends to make your legs feel worse.
Bulging varicose veins are often accompanied by itching around the vein. In more advanced stages, open sores (ulcers) may develop around the ankle area. Ulcers represent a severe form of vascular disease and require immediate attention.
In addition, any sudden leg swelling that may or
may not be accompanied by pain and redness
warrants urgent medical attention, as it may
indicate a blood clot.
Blood clots in the leg
Unfortunately, once varicose veins start, they don't get better on their own. The best advice if you have them (even small ones), or suspect you have them, is see your doctor.
Your doctor may first recommend that you wear
compression stockings. In addition, lifestyle
recommendations might include:
Exercise — Get your legs moving. Walking
is a great way to encourage blood circulation
in your legs. Your doctor can recommend an
appropriate activity level for you.
Walking - More than putting
one foot in front of the other
Weight control — Shedding excess pounds
takes unnecessary pressure off your veins.
Weight control - What
works and why
Watching what you wear — Avoid high
heels. Low-heeled shoes work calf muscles
more, which is better for veins. Don't wear
tight clothes around your calves or groin.
Tight panty-leg girdles, for instance, can
Elevating your legs — Take three or four
10- to 15-minute breaks daily to elevate your
legs above the level of your heart (for
example, by lying down with your legs
resting on three or four pillows).
Avoiding long periods of sitting or
standing — Make a point of changing your
position frequently to encourage blood flow.
Using supplements to treat varicose veins is
not standard medical practice, but some doctors feel that certain nutrients
are helpful. Here's what they recommend.
NUTRIENTS, DAILY AMOUNTS, AND APPLICATIONS
Disclaimer: This information is intended as a guide only. This information is offered to you with the understanding that it not be interpreted as medical or professional advice. All medical information needs to be carefully reviewed with your health care provider.
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