Leg Vein Health

Updated 02 February 2016

Tired, heavy legs may indicate CVI

Standing exerts enormous strain on the veins, up to 10 times that of other postures. No wonder modern man - and women - suffer from chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).

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Veins are the pathways that transport blood through the body back to the heart and lungs to be replenished with fresh oxygen. Standing exerts enormous strain on the veins, up to 10 times that of other postures.

The upright position encourages the flow of blood downward while simultaneously forcing the body to work against gravity to return the blood, about one and a half meters, from the feet to the heart.

Read: Home-based exercise programmes for effective

To ease the tremendous effort it would take for the heart to handle this task by itself, the legs contain a series of muscle driven pumps and one-way valves, a system called the "second heart".

This second heart requires a lot of exertion to perform this task, which was not a problem as long as human beings remained hunter-gatherers, because the calf muscles and the soles of the feet were utilised enough to keep the blood circulation going.

Modern lifestyle bad for circulation

But the modern man and woman’s lifestyle causes his, and especially her, blood circulation to stagnate. Blood congests in the veins, the walls of the veins slacken, and valves malfunction.

Spider veins and swollen legs begin to appear, and later bulging, deep purple varicose veins weave their way through the calves.

“About 44% of women and 19% of men begin to see signs of vein problems by age 30. By 50, more than 64% of women and 42% of men are affected by some form of varicose veins. (Women are affected nearly four times more frequently than men.)”

Read: Could dark chocolate help ease poor leg circulation

The onset of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) usually goes unnoticed. Early symptoms such as spider veins or tired, heavy legs in the evening are often not taken seriously enough.

Risk factors

Key risk factors that adversely affect leg vein health are: lack of exercise; poor nutrition; excess weight; pregnancy; hot steamy climates; exposure to sunlight; tight and restrictive clothing; and old age.

Looking at that list leaves one feeling slightly concerned because we are all going to get old one day, and most of South Africa boasts a hot and sunny climate. So what can one do to protect ones veins? The obvious answers are to eat healthily, loose excess weight, exercise, move to the North Pole and stay forever young.

However, as we can do nothing to change the fact that the health of our leg veins will slowly deteriorate with the advancement of age, perhaps we should look at what to be aware of, and how to help our veins stay healthy for as long as possible.

Read: Office strolls restore blood flow to the legs 

To begin with, one should attentively observe any signs of CVI. Tired, heavy legs, spider veins, and tingling calves indicate that it’s high time to take action: oedema (slight swelling of the lower legs) marks the first stage of CVI (stage one).

At first the congestion and swelling recedes overnight, but this temporary relief stops occurring as the illness progresses. Cell metabolism declines in the congested leg; fluids and blood pigments are released. This leads to a brown discolouration of the skin, marking the second stage of CVI (stage two).

In addition to healthy nutrition and exercises, targeted measures such as foot gymnastics and cold water applications can help at this stage of the disease.

Nature has also provided us with some interesting and very effective therapies, the most successful of which are derived from plants, which include medicines made from the red vine leaf, horse chestnut pine bark extract. In the case of a pronounced chronic venous insufficiency, measures are primarily about stopping the progression of the disease.

Varicose veins can become chronic if they are not treated immediately. In the worst-case scenario, leg and foot ulcers can develop – the so-called “Ulcus Cruris”. Ulcus Cruris is the most severe form of CVI (stage three).

These ulcers are the consequence of long-standing circulatory disorders in the leg tissue. Therapy, ulcer treatment, and possible surgical operations are required at this stage, all of which need professional medical care. 

Read more: 

Exercise keeps leg arteries clear 

Spray-on skin may heal leg ulcers  

Leg pain signals deadly blood clots 

 

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Ask the Expert

Leg vein expert

Dr. Riaz Motara is a specialist physician and cardiologist. He has an interest in preventative cardiology. He runs Veinsculpt, the first and only comprehensive vein clinic in South Africa, using endo-venous laser ablation as the treatment of choice.He also operates the only Women's Heart Clinic in South Africa.

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