A route for improving vein health

Your kids ask about those blue or purple squiggles all over your legs that look like lines on a roadmap. So, you give them the answer from chapter six in a fifth grade science textbook. Well, they're just veins.

But hold on minute — why don't kids have them? And why do they look different from the veins on the inside of your wrist or elbow? That's because those are varicose veins. It’s something that may happen to healthy veins over time.

What is a varicose vein exactly? It's a vein that has become stretched and swollen with blood. To understand this common condition more clearly, it helps if we know more about the function of veins, in general. 

Everyone has veins and arteries that run throughout our body. They are tiny tubes that carry blood in and out everywhere from your nose down to your toes. The flow of blood starts with the pumping action of the heart. The arteries carry blood from your heart out to your body. Veins carry the blood from your body back to the heart .

It's a lot of work to move all that blood. To do their job, veins are full of valves that help keep the blood flowing in the right direction. Valves are like tiny doors that close after the blood has passed through to keep blood moving along and to make sure it doesn't flow backward.

As people get older the valves might not work as well. When that happens, some blood can stay in a vein instead of moving forward like it should. This makes the vein swell up. That swollen vein is a varicose vein.

Varicose veins often show up on the legs, ankles, and feet because those body parts are farthest from the heart. Gravity pulls blood down into your legs and feet when you're standing up or sitting down. Sometimes the veins have to work extra hard to get that blood back up to the heart and some of those veins can wear out over time.

Varicose veins look twisted and purple or blue, and they're raised, which means they look like they're sitting on top of the skin. Sometimes, varicose veins can be tender and painful, especially after sitting or standing still for a long time. People who have varicose veins might also have achy legs that feel heavy.

This condition can affect both men and women. Varicose veins may develop anywhere in the body. But, most people see them on the legs and pelvic region.

Many things can increase your risk for varicose veins, including carrying extra weight, pregnancy, lack of movement and age. Family history may also play a role.

 Child-bearing is an important risk factor because the pressure on the veins around the pelvis as the baby grows can cause the valves to become weakened. Carrying extra weight around the pelvis as well as abdominal tumors can also create elevated pressure that can lead to varicose veins.  Working in a job that requires long periods of standing may also put added pressure on the veins.

Those with cardiovascular disease who also have varicose veins and other risk factors such as high blood pressure, too much water retention and/or congestive heart failure may be more susceptible to swelling in the legs, skin breakdown and infections in the skin that may occur from varicose veins.

The weakening of the valves that causes varicose veins occurs over a long period of time. It is not caused by short-term activities, such as crossing your legs while seated,

There are other vein conditions as well. Varicose veins are different from a serious condition called deep vein thrombosis, which occurs when a clot forms in the deeper vein system and can travel into the main pulmonary artery. Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but occur in smaller veins and get their name from their spider-like appearance.

In most cases, varicose veins are really no big deal. They're usually pretty harmless. But people who have problems like pain with their varicose veins will sometimes see a doctor to have them removed.

To get rid of varicose veins doctors use special lasers or a procedure called sclerotherapy. In sclerotherapy, the doctor injects fluid into the vein that makes it shrivel up. Both of these treatments are pretty common.

Luckily, there are many ways to treat minimize or prevent varicose veins on your own.  Lifestyle changes often are the most favorable option.These changes can prevent varicose veins from getting worse, reduce pain, and delay other varicose veins from forming. Lifestyle changes include the following:

  • Avoid standing or sitting for long periods without taking a break. When sitting, avoid crossing your legs. Keep your legs raised when sitting, resting, or sleeping. When you can, raise your legs above the level of your heart.
  • Do physical activities to get your legs moving and improve muscle tone. This helps blood move through your veins.
  • If you're overweight or obese, try to lose weight. This will improve blood flow and ease the pressure on your veins.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes, especially those that are tight around your waist, groin (upper thighs), and legs. Tight clothes can make varicose veins worse.
  • Avoid wearing high heels for long periods. Lower heeled shoes can help tone your calf muscles. Toned muscles help blood move through the veins.

Doctors often recommend compression stockings. These stockings create gentle pressure up the leg. This pressure keeps blood from pooling and decreases swelling in the legs.

Remember to stay active and keep your blood flowing. Love your body and your body will love you!