Varicose veins are a common condition which affects three in 10 adults, and although they may seem unsightly, they are generally harmless. However there are things you can do to prevent yourself from getting them and exercises you can do to alleviate their appearance.
Varicose veins are swollen, twisted, enlarged veins which most commonly occur on the legs and are either blue or purple in appearance. Generally they do not cause medical problems in most people.
What causes varicose veins?
Varicose veins and spider veins are often hereditary and most often affect women than men. This could be due to hormonal factors from puberty, pregnancy, menopause, the use of birth control pills, and HRT, which can all play a role.
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Other common causes of varicose veins include:
Pregnancy: As early as the first trimester pregnancy triggers a dramatic increase in hormone levels and blood volume can affect the veins. Fortunately this can clear up 12 weeks after you give birth.
Gender: Research suggests female hormones tend to relax the walls of veins, making the valves more prone to leaking which leaves women more prone than men to this condition.
Genetics: Varicose veins can also be hereditary, and if a close family member has them then your risk is increased.
Age: Ageing veins lose their elasticity and the valves inside the veins may become faulty, causing a varicose vein to develop.
Excess weight: Carrying extra weight puts unnecessary pressure on your veins, forcing them to work harder to send the blood back to your heart, putting further pressure on the valves, which can leave them prone to leaking.
Occupation: Jobs which require long periods of standing may increase your risk of getting varicose veins as this affects your blood flow.
While many of the above causes are unavoidable, there are some factors which can increase your likelihood of developing varicose veins or aggravate them once you have them. The primary culprit is jobs which need you to stand or sit for extended periods of time. The most common include:
- Flight Attendants/ air hostesses
- Retail workers
- Office-bound workers
How varicose veins develop
Veins are blood vessels which carry blood from your body's tissues back to your heart. The heart then pumps the blood to the lungs get oxygenated and this oxygen-rich blood then is pumped throughout the body through blood vessels called arteries.
Veins have one-way valves that help keep blood flowing one way – toward your heart. However, if these valves become weak or damaged, they stop working properly and blood can pool in the veins causing them to swell.
Raised pressure in these veins can also lead to the development of spider veins and tarnished areas which appear bruised.
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Standing for long periods of time or sitting in the same position for a long time causes the blood to pool in your legs, which can cause the varicose veins. Standing on hard surfaces like wooden floors and wearing shoes without good support can also exacerbate the problem.
Coping with varicose veins
There are many ways which they can become damaged, and preventing them may not always be possible such as in the cases where they are hereditary or during pregnancy. However, there are ways to ease symptoms of existing varicose veins:
Move more: Try not to sit or stand still for too long in one place and move around every 30 minutes. If your job requires you to stand or sit for long periods make sure you schedule regular breaks and if possible elevate your legs during this time. When sitting, avoid crossing your legs and whenever possible raise your legs above the level of your heart.
Regular exercise: This can not only help improve circulation but also help you lose weight and maintain a healthier lifestyle overall, taking some pressure off the veins.
Support stockings: Try wearing support stockings to ease or prevent enlargement of varicose veins.
Loose clothing: Try to avoid wearing tight clothes, especially leggings or jeans which put pressure on the legs as this can make varicose veins worse.
Wear flat shoes: Try to avoid wearing high heels too often or for long periods as this can weaken your calf muscles. Shoes with lower heels help tone calf muscles which helps blood move through the veins with greater ease.
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NHS Choices; Varicose Veins; reviewed: 02/09/2014; http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/varicose-veins/Pages/Whatarevaricoseveins.aspx
MedLine Plus; NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; Varicose Veins; https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/varicoseveins.html
Circulation Foundation: Veins; https://www.circulationfoundation.org.uk/help-advice/veins
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; How Can Varicose Veins Be Prevented? Updated: February 13, 2014; http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/vv/prevention