Take a look at your legs. Do you see any veins that look like they’re bulging or twisted? What about smaller “spider veins” that are blue? If you have anything like these, you might have varicose veins.
So, what are varicose veins specifically? They are twisted, enlarged veins that can develop in the legs. This can happen because of the pressure that’s put on the veins from standing over time.
In most cases, varicose veins and spider veins – a milder version of varicose veins – are only a cosmetic concern. However, for others, varicose veins can be achy and uncomfortable. In some extreme cases, varicose veins can lead to more severe problems like circulatory problems.
Varicose veins is a condition that affects over 40 million people in the U.S. as of 2014, but few people know what they are and what can increase your risk of developing them.
What Contributes to Varicose Veins?
Before we discuss what contributes to your risk of developing varicose veins, let’s talk about vein basics. You have two main types of blood vessels in your body – arteries and veins. Arteries transport oxygenated blood from your heart to all parts of your body. Once the blood has delivered the oxygen to the tissues and cells that need it, the blood travels back to your heart via veins. In most cases, veins are moving up your body against the force of gravity. It’s this natural occurrence that adds additional stress to the veins in your legs and causes varicose veins.
What can happen if you have venous insufficiency – i.e., your leg veins are unable to transport the blood back up to your heart – is blood will start to pool in your legs. This is not only uncomfortable but can lead to varicose veins in the long run.
Some things can contribute to developing varicose veins:
- Being female
- Older in age
- Being overweight or obese
- Not exercising regularly
- High blood pressure
- Family history
These factors can seem especially unfair, particularly if you’re female and your mother has varicose veins. If one parent has varicose veins, daughters have a 60% chance to develop them, too.
Varicose Veins Symptoms
As you noticed, many criteria contribute to the development of varicose veins. That, unfortunately, means that many people check one or more boxes and are more likely to develop varicose and spider veins. But before you frantically start to think “oh no I have varicose veins,” stop to take a moment to learn what the identifying symptoms are.
- Swelling in your ankles or feet
- Itchy legs or feet
- Achy or feeling of weight in lower legs and feet
- Changes in skin color
- Skin sores and ulcers
- Cramping in the lower legs
If you have one or more of these symptoms, you should consult with a doctor who can formally diagnose you with varicose veins. Vein specialists will first examine your legs and use a type of ultrasound machine to determine how well the blood can flow through your legs. If he learns you have varicose veins, he will recommend the best course of action for you based on your results and discomfort.
Treatment and Prevention
Because so many people have varicose veins, treatment options have come a long way. For milder cases of varicose veins, your doctor might recommend that you wear compression socks or stockings to ease any discomfort. Compression socks work by helping your veins get the blood back up your legs. You can find plenty of options for compression socks at your local drug store, and they don’t require a prescription.
You can also help treat mild spider veins and varicose veins by getting more exercise if you’re relatively inactive. Going on a brisk walk, doing toe raises, and stretching your legs regularly are all great ways to engage your leg muscles if you’re not active. If you prefer a more athletic approach, try running or sports that involve heavy leg muscle use.
For more severe cases, you might need to pursue laser surgery or injection scleropathy. Laser surgery causes smaller spider veins to fade over time while injection scleropathy involves injecting a solution into the varicose veins that causes them to scar and fade. Find information on injection sclerotherapy vein treatment before you make any final decisions.
If you check one or more of the criteria we mentioned above that suggests you have a higher risk of developing varicose veins; prevention will be your number one combatant to varicose veins. Preventive medical measures are the most low-cost and practical option for most health issues including varicose and spider veins.
You should avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time as doing so can cause blood to pool in your legs. If you work a desk job, try getting up every 30 minutes or so just to do a brief stretch or quick circuit around your office. Purchasing an adjustable standing desk can also help you change positions more often. Getting up to stretch is also incredibly important when flying as the pressurized cabin can cause more damage to delicate veins.
Some other things you can do to prevent varicose veins include quitting smoking, losing weight if you’re overweight, exercising 3-4 times per week, and eating a healthy diet.
Even if you end up with varicose veins after taking preventive measures, know that treatments continue to get better each year. Most vein conditions are entirely manageable without surgery, too. That being said, the best way to prevent varicose veins and a slew of other health issues is to be active and eat healthily. You and your body will thank you for it.