This very common condition may affect as many as half the population over the age of 50. Women are 4 times more likely to get them as men, possibly as a result of child bearing.
Essentially a varicose vein is one which has become distended and swollen and is lengthened and twisted. The most commonly affected veins are those in the leg, but haemorrhoids are also a form of varicose vein.
The veins have no pump pressure behind them to move blood and so are dependent upon small valves which permit only one way movement of blood and prevent backwards flow. The flow itself is created by the ‘muscle pump’ created by the contraction and relaxation of surrounding muscles (eg. when walking the calf muscles serve to push blood back up the legs). The tiny valves are delicate and prolapse will lead to a pooling of blood in the vein. This creates a swelling of the vein and ultimately a varicosity.
Varicose veins are unsightly and may be painful but they are rarely dangerous. Occasionally they may predispose to a thrombus (blood clot) but this is relatively rare. Symptoms of varicose veins, apart from the swollen vein itself, may include tiredness and aching of the leg, a feeling of heaviness in the legs and occasionally pain. If the local circulation is sufficiently impaired then a brownish discolouration may develop and this could progress to form a venous ulcer. Because of the poor circulation, these ulcers are particularly hard to treat and they may become chronically infected.
Factors which may predispose to or aggravate varicose veins include:
- Pregnancy or obesity which puts pressure on the large veins returning blood from the lower limbs and impedes blood flow.
- Constrictive clothing such as tight waists or skin tight jeans.
- Lack of exercise which causes poor circulation in general and poor muscle tone in the legs.
- Standing for long periods will impede blood return from the legs by simple force of gravity. It is especially damaging to stand on very hard floors (eg concrete).
- Inherited weakness in the blood vessel wall may make you more liable to develop varicose veins. Weakness may also be acquired (eg. after an accident, phlebitis or surgery).
- Constipation leading to straining with bowel movements may increase pressure in the abdomen and impede blood flow through the larger vessels draining the legs. This is also the leading cause of haemorrhoids.
- Frequent sitting with the legs crossed may impede blood return from the legs.
Holistic treatment of varicose veins
The diet should be high in fibre and any tendency to constipation should be addressed. Bulking agents such as psyllium seeds may be used to promote healthy bowel movements.
If you must stand for lengthy periods then elastic support hose should be worn and you should develop the habit of contracting and relaxing the calf muscles (stand on your toes then back on your heels repeatedly).
Exercise is very important. Any exercise which works the legs will be helpful (walking, cycling, dancing, running, aerobics, baseball etc). The inverted yoga postures may also be beneficial in encouraging blood return from the legs. If you cannot stand on your head then at least try lying on the floor with your feet up the wall.
The feet should be raised whenever possible. Sit with your feet up on a footstool or the couch. Put blocks under the foot of the bed or place a rolled up blanket under the bottom sheet.
Hydrotherapy can be very useful to tone up the veins and improve circulation. Put 2 buckets in the bath tub, one filled with very hot water and one filled with cold water. Sit on the side of the bath and plunge the feet and legs into the hot water for about 15 – 20 seconds then immediately into the cold for about 45 seconds. Repeat this several times, for 5 minutes, at least once a day. Always finish with cold water so that you leave the veins toned and tightened.
Supplements to strengthen the veins
- Vitamin C should be taken to bowel tolerance, in combination with bioflavonoids.
- Additional bioflavonoids to take include Rutin and Quercitin, a total of about 500 mg. daily.
- Beta carotene 10,000 – 50,000 iu. daily.
- Vitamin E (d alpha tocopherol) 400 – 800 iu. daily.