Varicose Veins: Facts, Causes and Treatment
- Varicose (derived from the Latin root “varix” which means twisted) simply means swollen. Veins, like arteries are blood vessels. Arteries carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body while veins carry blood back to the heart. Did you know there are more than 60,000 miles of blood vessels within the body?
- Deep veins are veins found deep in the leg muscles and when these muscles contract (e.g. when walking or jogging), they force blood flow upstream along the deep veins. This is how blood is delivered from the legs to the heart.
- There are small 1-way valves along the walls of the veins that prevent
blood from flowing in the reverse direction. There are 3 types of such
valved veins in the legs: deep veins, superficial veins found under
the skin and perforated veins whose valves allow blood to flow from
the superficial veins to the deep veins. Perforated veins means they
pass through the thick leg muscles to reach the deep veins.
- Varicose veins result when the 1-way valves become faulty causing a blood build-up in the veins. This stretches, enlarges and widens the veins.
- Varicose veins are visible near the surface of the skin and they appear
as bulging bluish-colored twisted knots and even the skin feels bumpy.
They can show up anywhere though mostly on the calves and thighs, affecting
both men and women alike.
- Varicose veins can cause aching, burning, heaviness, tiredness, cramps and itching in the legs or they may not cause any pain at all.
- Though deeper varicose veins are not visible, the skin above them
may darken and swell. In severe cases, varicose veins can burst or develop
open sores (ulcers) on the skin around the ankles and heels (e.g. stasis
- Varicose veins occurring within the anal area are called piles (hemorrhoids).
- Spider veins are also known as thread veins, broken capillaries, spider hemangiomas or angiomas. They are the dilation of a small group of blood vessels located near to the skin's surface which leads to red, blue or purple discolorations on the veins.
- Family history. An inherited weakness of the valves in the veins.
- With age, the elasticity of the walls along the veins are weakened which stretches the veins.
- Hormonal changes within the body during pregnancy and menopause relaxes the walls of the veins. In addition, during pregnancy the veins may receive extra pressure from the expanding uterus (womb) causing dilation. Also, the use of birth control pills or estrogen replacement therapy alters the female hormone levels which might lead to varicose veins.
- Deep vein thrombosis (economy-class syndrome), a blood clot in the deep vein.
- Obesity and lifting heavy objects are also contributing factors.
- Varicose veins can show up as a result of liver disease.
- Varicose veins are usually harmless. They can be treated with ligation surgery or sclerotherapy (injected medication to close affected vein so that blood moves to another vein). Spider veins can be treated with sclerotherapy and laser. Though newer and supposedly effective removal methods will surely be developed in time to come, it is always important to make sure you gather lots of information about these procedures and seek professional and sound advice before deciding what is good for you.
- Seek a physician if you cut a varicose vein, experience pain, swelling or develop skin ulcers near a varicose vein.
How to reduce varicose veins
- Do regular exercise. Walking, running, cycling and swimming keep blood vessels healthy.
- Stick to a high-fiber and low-salt diet.
- Kick off the high heels.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothings or undergarments that restrict blood flow at the waist, groin and legs (e.g. girdles, stockings and socks).
- If elastic stockings are recommended, wear them before getting out of bed in the morning.
- Do not leave legs crossed or bent for a long period.
- If work requires prolonged standing or sitting, move and stretch those legs, rotate ankles and wiggle the toes once in a while.
- Do leg stretching exercises daily.
- Raise legs above the level of the heart whenever possible.
- Rest those legs on pillows while sleeping.
- Stop smoking.
- Horse chestnut (Latin name: Aesculus hippocastanum) is a herb known to reduce pain and swelling.
- Gotu kola (Latin name: Centella asiatica), another herb has been found to improve blood circulation.
- Butcher's broom (Latin name: Ruscus aculeatus) a herb that has been used to improve blood circulation in the legs and treat hemorrhoids.
- Vitamin E helps improve blood circulation and protects blood vessels from damage.
- According to Dr. John Heinerman in his book Heinerman's Encyclopedia of Healing Juices (Prentice Hall, 1994), rubbing with persimmon juice once the bulging has started can prevent the condition from worsening. Nutrients found in a persimmon fruit include calcium, iron, sodium, potassium, vitamin A, C and K.
- Frankincense may also offer relief. Dilute 2-3 drops of frankincense essential oil in almond oil and then massage.
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