What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are swollen, enlarged veins that commonly occur on the legs and feet and appear bluish-black through the skin.
They occur because of improperly functioning, blocked valves that either cause accumulation or pooling of blood, or flow of blood in the wrong direction, thereby causing the legs to swell up.
About 23% of all adults are believed to suffer from this condition, and in severe cases, it can be painful too.
The condition usually does not need treatment in its initial stages, but if the pain, swelling, or pain in the legs is causing extreme discomfort, it might need medical attention.
How do the veins look?
Varicose veins are large, swollen, and twisted veins in the legs and appear bluish-black through the skin.
They look different from spider veins that are smaller, red, purple, or blue blood vessels and are also visible through the skin.
However, as mentioned earlier, they have differences that tell them apart:
Spider veins are thin, more delicate, appear redder along with purplish-blue color whereas, varicose veins are much larger, thick and tortuous and appear bluish-black, and also often bulge from the skin.
Symptoms of pain and discomfort
Spider veins never have symptoms such as pain or discomfort but can cause itching, burning sensation, or lead to secondary skin infections.
Varicose veins, on the other hand, are often more painful, cause heaviness, swelling, throbbing, night cramps, and fatigue in the legs.
People with spider veins seek treatment mainly for cosmetic purposes, and in many cases, the tiny blood vessels burst and bleed when the skin is rubbed too hard.
If this bleeding occurs under the skin, it can cause bruising too.
However, it rarely leads to swelling of the affected area.
In the case of varicose veins, people are often troubled by its many secondary troubles such as ulcers, changes in the skin, frequent swelling in the legs, etc.
What are hemorrhoids, and how do they differ from varicose veins?
Haemorrhoidal tissue is present in everyone and is made up of arteries, veins, and connective tissues surrounded by muscles.
When this tissue gets enlarged or swollen, it is referred to as hemorrhoids.
They are more common than we think, but people are often as uncomfortable talking it as they are living with it.
This tissue is found in the rectal area, and this condition is most commonly diagnosed when there is pain or bleeding while using the restroom.
Hemorrhoids are of two types:
- Internal hemorrhoids
- External hemorrhoids
Varicose veins, on the other hand, are quite similar to hemorrhoids, but they are primarily found in the weight-bearing areas of the body, i.e. the legs.
They appear engorged, swollen, ropy, and bluish-black through the skin.
Though they can occur anywhere in the body, they primarily occur in the legs and feet.
What causes varicose veins?
The leading cause for varicose veins as damaged or blocked veins in the legs.
In the human body, the veins are blood vessels that are responsible for returning the blood to the heart.
The veins of the legs need to do so by working against gravity. Veins contain small valves that prevent the back-flow of blood and allow the blood to return upwards towards the heart.
However, if these valves do not function properly, are weak or damaged, the blood flows backward and begins to pool in the legs.
This causes varicose veins.
What are the symptoms of varicose veins?
How do you know if you are suffering from varicose veins?
Some common symptoms include:
- Thickened, twisted, and blue veins in the legs
- Pain in the legs
- Fatigue in the legs
- Achy, heavy feeling in the legs
- Muscle cramps and swelling in the legs
- Itchiness in the area
- Blemish of the skin on the legs
- Weakness in the legs
What are the risk factors for varicose veins?
Some reasons predispose one to develop varicose veins.
An increase in age increases the risk of developing varicose veins because of the gradual wear and tear of the valves that occur as we grow older.
An increase in weight and obesity increases the pressure on the veins in the legs, increasing the risk of varicose veins.
The increase in blood volume, along with hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, increases a woman’s risk of developing varicose veins.
Women are more prone to varicose veins as compared to men.
Hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause cause the veins to dilate due to hormones.
Using hormonal pills such as birth control pills increase the risk even further.
Individuals who stand a lot as part of their job – traffic police, teachers, etc., are more prone to developing varicose veins over a period of time.
Having a family member with varicose veins increases an individual’s risk of developing the condition.
Why are women more prone to varicose veins?
Women are at a higher risk of developing varicose veins due to the hormones progesterone and estrogen, which causes the veins to dilate.
During pregnancy, these hormones cause dilation of smooth muscles, including the uterus and event the veins in the legs, causing the veins to get larger.
This dilation of the veins causes the valves inside them to get damaged, and they are unable to function properly to help the veins return the blood to the heart.
This leads to the pooling of blood and varicose veins.
Another situation that can arise during pregnancy is that the increase in the blood volume during this time puts immense pressure on the veins of the legs leading to varicose veins.
The increase in blood volume during pregnancy can be up to 30% than the usual volume in her non-pregnant body.
How is bodybuilding associated with varicose veins?
Bodybuilding is a physical activity that involves controlled and progressive strength training to develop muscular definition in the body in individuals who are interested in bikini, fitness, or other similar aesthetic competitions.
One thing that we see among bodybuilders is the vascularity or the superficial blood vessels.
It often appears like they have thin skin with bulging veins.
This is mainly due to the extreme reduction of subcutaneous fat that brings about muscle definition.
There are many different ways that bodybuilders attain vascularity; this has always been controversial.
However, this vascularity is not the same as varicose veins. But, bodybuilders are very highly prone to varicose veins.
The reasons for this are:
- Hormonal imbalances that are caused due to anabolic drugs
- Some training styles demand the athletes stand for long periods or lifting heavyweights
- The genetics that increased estrogen levels in the body
What are the treatment options for varicose veins?
The treatment options include treating the cause as well as the many symptoms.
However, no extended hospital stays or extensive surgical procedures are needed to treat them.
The current treatment options for varicose veins are:
This involves self-care measures such as regular exercises, weight management, wearing light, and loose, breathable clothes, keeping your legs elevated while sitting or sleeping, avoiding long periods of sitting and standing.
These can be done to reduce the symptoms of pain and discomfort.
Wearing compression stockings
This is a very commonly used clothing that you see many people with varicose veins wear.
These are tight stockings that are worn on the legs and help to squeeze the legs that support the veins and muscles of the leg to move the blood smoothly towards the heart, thereby preventing pooling or accumulation of the blood.
More severe cases of varicose veins are treated using methods like sclerotherapy laser treatments, Ambulatory phlebotomy, high ligation, and vein stripping, catheter-assisted procedures using radiofrequency, and endoscopic vein surgery.
Varicose veins and sun exposure
The symptoms of varicose veins may worsen on exposure to sunlight.
This facilitates the cooling down of the body as the veins widen to bring blood to the skin’s surface.
However, in the case of varicose veins, the enlarging of the already faulty valves ends up heightening swelling and pain in the legs.
Varicose veins and menstrual cycle
Do you experience extra pain in your varicose veins just before your periods?
The surge in the progesterone a week or two before your menstruation results in the loosening of veins to aid better blood flow.
But this imposes a strain on the valves in the veins present in the legs to adapt to the excess blood flow.
As a result, varicose veins emerge, or the existing ones worsen.
Compression stockings are the best way to manage the pain if your varicose veins flareup during the premenstrual stage.
Exercises that work your calf muscles also help pump the blood better without it pooling in the veins.
Obesity and varicose veins
We all are aware that an increase in weight and obesity are high-risk factors for many heart and cardiovascular diseases.
An increase in weight is also a prime causative factor for varicose veins.
An excess amount of weight, more than that your body is built to carry puts immense pressure on your legs and the veins in them.
To support the excess body weight, the veins begin to dilate. The larger the vein diameter, the valves get stretched and damaged.
This results in improper functioning of these valves, leading to pooling of blood in the legs, leading to swelling and pain in the legs.
Some people also suffer from fatigue, restlessness, and itchiness in the legs.
One can prevent the development of varicose veins by maintaining a healthy weight.
Those who are obese and already suffer from it can prevent their condition from worsening by reducing their weight and ensuring regular physical exercise.
One of the popular treatment options for this condition is laser treatment.
In this method of treatment, the heat from the lasers is used to damage the veins in the legs and leading to scar formation.
This scar formation blocks the veins, and in a year or two, these blocked veins disappear.
There are two types of laser treatments that are done for varicose veins:
- Simple laser treatment
- Endogenous laser treatment
The recovery time after these laser treatments is typically short, and one can return to a routine in a day to a week.
This is a standard treatment method used to treat both varicose veins and spider veins.
This procedure involves injecting a salt solution directly into the veins.
This irritates the veins and causes them to collapse and stick together and the blood to clot.
Gradually over some time, this results in the formation of scar tissue, and the vein disappears.
This method of treating has been in practice since the early 1900s.
This is also a commonly used treatment.
In this procedure, many tiny cuts are made in the skin to remove the varicose vein.
It is done under local anesthesia and does not require a hospital stay.
However, this procedure needs to be accompanied by other methods for more effective results.
Compression socks are a special kind of stockings that are meant to be worn on the legs to ensure healthy blood circulation.
For this reason, they are beneficial to relieve symptoms in conditions such as chronic venous insufficiency, spider veins, and varicose veins.
When these stockings are worn, they are said to improve the symptoms because of the pressure that they apply on the ankles and legs, which compresses the superficial arteries and veins, thereby helping the blood flow to the heart and prevent backflow without any problems.
It is advised to wear these compression socks in the morning, before lowering your feet to get out of bed.
Your doctor will prescribe the best stockings for your condition.
Varicose veins: What’s the genetic link?
Varicose veins tend to run in families. Heredity is one of the most important risk factors for developing varicose veins.
This SNP is associated with the PIEZO1 gene that is located on chromosome 16.
The presence of the A allele increases the risk of the individual to develop varicose veins.
The PIEZO1 gene is associated with encoding a vascular mechanosensory channel, and a disruption in this channel has shown to cause disorganization of the vascular system.
This SNP is associated with the SLC12A2 gene located on chromosome 5.
The SLC12A2 is associated with maintaining the vascular tone and cell volume in the body.
The presence of the C allele increases the individual’s risk of developing circulatory disorders such as varicose veins.
This SNP is located on chromosome 5 in the EBF1 gene.
The T variant of this gene increases the risk of varicose veins.
This SNP is located with the HFE gene on the short arm of chromosome 6.
The HFE gene is also known as the human Homeostatic iron regulator.
The presence of the G allele in relation to the SNP rs7773004 increases the risk of developing primary varicose veins.
SNP rs9880192 is located on the RPN1 gene on chromosome 3.
The C allele increases the risk of developing varicose veins.
How to get rid of varicose veins using natural remedies?
There are many natural remedies and tips that one can try to relieve the symptoms. Some of these are:
- Reduce the pressure on your legs and the veins as much as you can
- Avoid high-intensity or high-impact sports and switch to lighter exercises that allow your legs and veins to cope up
- Wear the right footwear and avoid heels and stilettos that put excessive pressure on your veins
- Eat healthily
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid excessively hot showers
- Some natural supplements like grape seed and pine bark are said to be useful to relieve symptoms of varicose veins
Foods that contain flavonoids may also help.
Flavonoids-rich foods are:
- Vegetables: onions, bell peppers, spinach, and broccoli
- Citrus fruits and grapes, cherries, apples, and blueberries
What is butcher’s broom?
Butcher’s broom is a medicinal plant, whose roots are popularly consumed to relieve blood circulation problems like poor circulation in the legs, chronic venous insufficiency, leg cramps, swelling, heaviness, and pain.
It is usually taken by mouth and is also said to be helpful for gallstones, kidney stones, and atherosclerosis.
In the case of varicose veins, consuming butcher’s broom is said to cause narrowing or constriction of blood vessels, thereby preventing the pooling of blood.
How to manage varicose veins?
Here’s what you can do:
- Avoid sitting or standing for too long at a stretch. Take breaks in between.
- Do not cross your legs while sitting
- Try to keep your legs elevated above your heart levels whenever possible
- Shed some extra weight if you are overweight or obese
- Avoid wearing clothes that are tight around the groin, your thighs or your waist
- Avoid uncomfortable shoes and footwear like heels and stilettos
- Reduce the amount of salt in your diet
- Wearing compression socks and stockings
Exercise for varicose veins
Regular physical activity is said to be essential for a long and healthy life.
Regular fitness regime and exercise are also said to be useful to prevent its development and relieve symptoms in those with the condition.
Though there is no conclusive evidence that exercise improves the condition, it is said to have some visible effects.
Performing physical activity regularly improves blood circulation in the body, especially the legs, and prevents blood from pooling in the legs.
Also, exercising helps you to maintain a healthy weight and prevent obesity, which is a high-risk factor for this condition.
Some common exercises that are both light and useful exercises that you can do for are:
- Rocking feet
How to manage varicose veins during pregnancy?
A large number of women experience varicose veins during their pregnancy.
An increase in the blood supply and hormones are jointly responsible for this.
During pregnancy, a woman’s body has about 20% more blood than her non-pregnant body, which causes all the blood vessels to dilate, including the veins in her legs.
Due to this dilation of blood vessels, the valves that prevent the backflow of blood get stretched and damaged, thereby leading to the pooling of blood and subsequently, the condition.
Also, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, further cause dilation of smooth muscles, including those of the blood vessels, which further aggravates the condition.
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