Varicose veins are the bulging, dark blue veins that usually appear in your legs or feet. These twisted veins do not only mar your beautiful legs. Aside from being uncomfortable and achy, they can also make your feet and ankles swell. Other than these discomforts, however, the appearance of varicose veins in your legs is only a manifestation of a more serious health problem concerning your veins.
Getting to Know Your Veins
You have three types of blood vessels. The blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the different parts of your body (aside from your lungs) is called an artery.
The tiny blood vessels in charge of delivering oxygen and nutrients from the arterioles (small arteries) to the cells and carbon dioxide and waste materials from the cells to the venules (small veins) are called the capillaries.
The third type is your veins and they carry deoxygenated blood (aside from your pulmonary vein). These veins are in charge of returning your blood back to the heart for reoxygenation.
Inside your veins, you have venous valves. These one-way valves are like flaps that function to keep your blood flowing in one direction, and that is towards the heart, against the pull of gravity. These valves are important to prevent your blood from flowing back.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH) has specified the following risk factors for developing varicose veins:
1. Sex. Women are more at risk of varicose veins compared to men. Female hormones have been shown to relax the walls of your veins, which can make your venous valves leak.
2. Heredity. If you have a family member who has varicose veins, you are likely to have the condition yourself, since certain genes have been shown to influence vein function and structure contributing to the development of varicose veins.
3. Age. The likelihood of having varicose veins increases parallel with age. This is attributable to the fact that, together with many physiologic changes related to aging, your veins also diminish in elasticity as you grow older. Your venous valves might also become ineffective in performing its function.
4. Pregnancy. During pregnancy, your hormones peak, making the walls of your veins relax. In addition to this, the volume of maternal blood increases to support your growing baby, adding strain to the walls of your veins. As the baby grows inside your uterus, the pressure it exerts on your pelvic veins also increases. It can also compress your inferior vena cava, making you at risk of developing varicosities.
5. Occupation. Doing jobs that include hours of prolonged standing can make the blood flow in your vein sluggish. This can increase the pressure inside your veins which can lead to venous distention and varicose formation.
6. Overweight. Research has shown that vein-related health problems are worse in obese patients. Being overweight or obese means that your leg muscles are more developed in order to carry your body weight. This, however, hasn’t shown to improve the return of venous blood to the heart. In fact, being overweight results in an increased pressure in the veins, which can make your valves ineffective and leaky. And since overweight people move less, they are more prone to pooling of blood in the veins.
7. Prolonged immobility. Muscle movement helps in venous return. Prolonged immobility results in poor venous circulation especially in your lower extremities due to lack of muscle movement. This requires your veins to double their efforts in bringing your blood back to the heart, making your more prone to develop varicose veins.
How varicose veins develop
Any of the 7 risk factors mentioned can contribute to varicose vein formation by increasing the pressure inside the veins. The high venous pressure will make your veins dilated (enlarged diameter) and your valves stretched. Damage to your venous valves will make them incompetent in preventing the backflow of venous blood. The backflow of blood will make your calf muscles ineffective in pumping blood, leading to distended leg veins that appear bluish and bulging. You might also experience some heaviness, burning, throbbing, and aching in your legs, muscle cramps at night, and swelling of your feet and ankles.
Here are some effective home remedies for varicose veins:
1. Increase your physical activity to improve the circulation in your legs and maintain a healthy body weight.
2. If you are overweight, do certain diet and lifestyle modifications to lose excess weight.
3. Wear compression leg sleeves for better circulation and to reduce the pooling of blood.
4. Elevate your lower extremities when resting, especially at night, to improve venous return.
5. Avoid sitting and standing for long periods, and try to be as active as you can.