Unsightly and sore, varicose veins are something nobody relishes, and yet approximately 60% of all of us, men and women, suffer from them. Unfortunately for a number of us, we can be genetically predisposed to developing these visible swollen veins; however, for the rest of us, there are a number of things we can do to prevent the condition, or ease the discomfort once it develops. So what exactly are varicose veins, and what causes them?
What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins occur most commonly in our legs, and are veins that have become distended and twisted, and largely useless! There is a very good reason why they manifest in the legs, and it’s all to do with pressure.
Veins are blood vessels whose job is to return deoxygenated blood from the tissue back to the heart. These are the vessels that appear to be blue beneath our skin. Veins are hard-working vessels, that have to carry blood often against the pull of gravity- imagine the distance the blood has to travel up our legs back to our heart!
To help them with their task, veins contain valves at regular intervals, that stop the back flow of blood by closing like a trap door; this keeps the flow of blood constant, one-directional, and at a healthy pressure within the veins.
The trouble occurs when these valves stop working properly- when this happens, blood is able to flow backwards; the vein can no longer force it upwards on its journey back to the heart. Blood starts to pool too heavily in the vessel, putting too much pressure on the vein walls, and eventually causing the vein to become enlarged, twisted and useless: These are varicose veins.
What Causes Varicose Veins?
There are many factors that can contribute to varicose veins.
Pregnancy: Many women find that they develop varicose veins during pregnancy. This is because, as the foetus develops, more blood starts flowing around the body to cope with the growing nutritional and oxygen demands of the baby. This has a huge effect on the pressure of the blood, which in turn puts greater strain on the veins.
Inactivity: The valves in the veins are only one way the blood is helped back to the heart. Probably the biggest help is the muscles of the legs, which squeeze the veins as you move, and push the blood upwards. If you are too inactive for too long, the veins have no muscular help, and the chances of blood becoming backed-up are more likely.
Obesity: Extra weight means extra pressure- not just on your heart, your joints and your skin, but on your veins too!
Hormonal Changes: These can occur when you take the contraceptive pill, during puberty or the menopause, with an increase in hormones causing a change in blood pressure. If you notice an ache in your calves when you start a course of hormone treatment of any kind, do mention it to your doctor, as this is a sign that the pressure in your veins may have increased.
Can You Get Rid of Varicose Veins?
Unfortunately, once you have varicose veins, they are not going anywhere without treatment. There are creams and compression socks that may improve the appearance and discomfort, but they won’t get rid of them altogether. There is good news though; whereas once varicose vein treatment was painful and took a long time to heal, there are several treatments now that are easy and convenient.
Varicose Vein Treatment
Laser Therapy: When a laser is accurately directed at the vein, it causes it to shrink and disappear. This treatment may need repeating, and is generally only used on smaller, spider veins. However, another treatment involving lasers uses their heat to close the veins- This is called endovenous thermal ablation, and can be used on larger veins.
Sclerotherapy: This treatment involves a chemical, often in the form of foam, being injected directly into the vein. This causes the vein to scar and close up, making it less visible, and completely out of use.
Vein Stripping: This is when the vein is actually removed through a cut in the skin. This treatment is less common now, since other less invasive treatments are preferred.
How To Prevent Varicose Veins
Of course, ideally, we would avoid developing varicose veins altogether, and there are certainly things you can do to help keep your veins as healthy as possible!
Exercise! Losing weight and keeping moving will both help keep the pressure in your veins at a healthy level. But you will also improve your circulation, and strengthen your muscles, all of which will keep those varicose veins at bay!
Quit Smoking! As well as being the single greatest thing you can do for your health, when you quit smoking, your blood pressure almost instantly improves. Less pressure on those veins means less of them turning varicose!
Put Your Feet Up! If you are sitting for long periods of time, trying elevating your feet from time to time- this will give your legs a helping hand at getting that blood up those veins and back to your heart. If putting your feet up isn’t an option, then get up and walk about for a couple of minutes- that will have the same effect of getting your blood moving.
Eat a Balanced Diet! By not eating too much salt, and keeping your fibre levels up, you can make sure you keep your blood pressure healthy, which puts you in the best position to avoid varicose veins.
If You Think You Have Varicose Veins, See Your Doctor
There is absolutely no reason to be embarrassed about your varicose veins; more people have them than you think. Your doctor will be able to advise you on a course of treatment that can deal with them quickly and easily, if they are starting to impact on your life. You’ll be getting your summer shorts out from the back of the wardrobe before you know it!