Healthy Legs

Your body’s vascular system consists of a complex network of arteries, veins and capillaries.  The main job of this system is one of transportation as it moves blood from the heart, throughout the body and back to the heart.  Arteries take oxygenated blood away from the heart.  The large arteries then break down into smaller capillaries which assist in taking the essential oxygen and nutrients to your body’s tissues and organs.   These capillaries then merge into larger vessels called veins which take the blood back to the heart.  A vascular disease can occur when there is damage to a vessel.  Damage can occur in several ways but the most common are as follows: 1) weakening of the vessel, 2) buildup of plaque, 3) an embolus (debris in the vessel), 4) trauma or injury and 5) inflammation.  A frequent vascular disease that is caused by a weakening of the veins in the lower extremities is varicose veins.  Following is some information to educate you about varicose veins and the treatment options available.

1. What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are bulging, unpleasant veins that mostly appear in the lower legs and ankles.  Varicose veins are caused by increased pressure on the leg veins and are commonly found in older people, pregnant women or people who are overweight.  Varicose veins can also be caused by standing for extended periods of time.  This increased pressure weakens the walls of the vessels and the valves are no longer able to move blood efficiently.  This can become painful as the blood collects and causes swelling and distress.

2.  Varicose Vein Symptoms

Varicose veins aren’t generally painful and most people notice them first because of their heightened appearance.  Varicose veins appear darkened in color, usually a deep purple or blue, and often look like thick cords under your skin.  However, some people do report pain and one of the most common complaints include a heavy feeling or overall achiness in the legs, especially after standing for longs periods of time.  Some individuals also note a burning or itching feeling and can also physically see the swelling in their lower legs and ankles.

3.  Prevention of Varicose Veins

As with most conditions, there are some simple things you can do to help prevent varicose veins.  One of the most important measures to take is exercise.  Exercise, and specifically aerobic exercise, will help keep your body’s vascular system flowing correctly and also help you maintain a healthier weight.  By preventing any unnecessary weight gain, you will help decrease any increased pressure on your lower extremities.  If you are already overweight or have pregnancy-induced varicose veins, exercise can help improve your symptoms and prevent the bulging veins from getting worse.  If your varicose veins are caused from standing for long periods of time, try taking a break for at least five minutes every hour to give your legs some important rest.  Most employers allow their employees to take two breaks during an eight-hour work day and you can ask them to allow you to split up your breaks into shorter, more frequent breaks if needed.

4.  Complications from Varicose Veins

As mentioned above, varicose veins are generally a cosmetic concern and rarely present more pressing health issues.  However, there are some uncommon complications that can occur such as blood clots and ulcers.  These two conditions are more serious and you should contact your doctor right away.  Blood clots are extremely critical and any abrupt swelling requires immediate attention from trained medical personnel.  Because these two conditions are serious and can be life-threatening, it is important to try and prevent varicose veins from getting worse.

5.  Treatment

Self-care is generally the first step in treating varicose veins.  Exercise is generally prescribed to assist the flow in the body’s vascular system.  If you are overweight, exercise will also help relieve increased pressure.  Other suggested treatments include elevating the legs to relieve pressure and avoiding tight fitting clothes or socks.

If self-care measures don’t relieve the pain caused by varicose veins, doctors will often instruct you to wear compression stockings.  Compressions stockings work by squeezing your legs and applying pressure to them to help increase the blood flow.  It is important to get the proper fit and a pharmacist can help you measure your legs to ensure you buy the correct size.  Compression stockings can be purchased at medical supply stores or at most pharmacies.

Unfortunately, some varicose veins won’t respond to self-care treatment or compression stockings.  In these instances, further treatment must be given.  There are several procedural options available including sclerotherapy, vein stripping, catheter-assisted surgeries and other laser surgeries.  Before scheduling any of these advanced procedures, be sure to check with your health insurance.  Sometimes varicose vein treatment is considered cosmetic and therefore it may not be covered.

If you don’t presently have varicose veins or if you are just beginning to notice them, try incorporating the preventative and self-care measures mentioned above.  Your health is important and you can take an active part in preventing and improving your quality of life.