What are Varicose Veins?

Author: ANCP   Date Posted:26 May 2016 

Varicose veins affect nearly half of all middle-aged adults. Aside from being unsightly, they can cause your legs to swell, ache and feel heavy, and may increase the likelihood of developing leg ulcers or blood clots.

What are varicose veins?

Veins are the blood vessels that return oxygen-depleted blood back to your heart. Since they’re working against the force of gravity, the veins in your legs contain a multitude of one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing backwards.

However, if a valve is subjected to excessive pressure it may fail, allowing blood to flow back towards the feet, and in turn increasing the amount of pressure neighbouring valves are subjected to. When enough valves fail, the blood in the affected vein pools, resulting in chronic venous insufficiency, which is characterised by stretched, distorted varicose veins, often accompanied by symptoms of aching, swelling, numbness, tingling and feelings of heaviness in the legs.

What makes Varicose Veins occur?

Factors that increase the amount of pressure on the veins and their valves may include standing or sitting for long periods of time (e.g. for occupational reasons), being pregnant and being obese. Other risk factors include being female, aging, and not getting regular exercise.

Genetic weaknesses of the vein walls may also be a contributing factor for some people. While most varicose veins occur in the legs, haemorrhoids are somewhat similar. These swollen, painful blood vessels in and around the anus and lower rectum may be caused by frequent forceful bowel movements brought on by constipation, and they are extremely common in pregnancy.

varicose vein

How can I help prevent Varicose Veins?

These tips could help prevent varicose veins:

  • Don’t smoke – it has extremely negative effects on blood vessel health.
  • Consider wearing compression support tights if your work involves standing for long periods of time.
  • When sitting, try to spend some time with your feet higher than your hips.
  • Stretch, exercise and do yoga.
  • If you sit down a lot, make sure you stand up and take a five-minute walk every hour.
  • Consider taking extra vitamin C, which is necessary for the production of healthy collagen. Collagen is a protein that gives veins their strength. Ideally, choose a vitamin C supplement that also contains bioflavonoid and rutin to help stabilise and strengthen vein walls, improve the tone of the veins and increase the effects of vitamin C.
  • Eat plenty of foods that are rich in bioflavonoids. Good choices include citrus, berries, onions and garlic.

Once I’ve got Varicose Veins is there anything I can do?

Herbal medicines that have traditionally been used to improve circulation and may help relieve the pain and swelling of varicose veins include:

  • Horse chestnut: In clinical studies, horse chestnut seed extract has been shown to relieve varicose veins symptoms such as pain, heaviness, swelling and itchiness of the lower leg
  • Butcher’s broom: Butcher’s broom has a long history of use in treating vein disorders, and may help ease the discomfort of varicose vein and haemorrhoid symptoms. Scientific studies have shown that it inhibits an enzyme involved in degrading the structural support of veins, and that some of its active constituents, called ruscogenins, have a toning effect on the blood vessels
  • Gotu kola: Gotu kola may assist in the management and symptomatic relief of haemorrhoids. It is believed to work by strengthening and supporting the connective tissue structure surrounding the veins, aiding their elasticity, and improving blood flow through the veins
  • Grape seed: Grape seed is a potent antioxidant that may assist in maintaining peripheral circulation. It has particular benefits for the health of the blood vessels, exerting a protective effect on capillaries and strengthening weak blood vessels, and may assist in the management of varicose veins
  • Ginkgo: Ginkgo is best known for its effects on the memory, but may also assist blood flow to peripheral areas of the body, such as the legs and feet. It may also assist in the symptomatic relief of legs that ache and become tired after walking long distances

See a doctor urgently if you suffer from varicose veins and develop chest pain or breathing problems (you may have a blood clot). You should also seek medical advice if a varicose vein develops suddenly; if a varicose vein does not stop bleeding after a minor injury; if a varicose vein becomes red, painful.