Good circulation is the key to vein health. The circulatory system works continuously, moving oxygen-rich blood to every cell and organ in the body. The heart, arteries, and veins are the major parts of the circulatory system, also known as the cardiovascular system. As the heart pumps, oxygenated blood is carried by the arteries throughout the body. Using muscle contractions, veins carrying the deoxygenated blood back to the heart must work against gravity to move the blood from the legs. Compared to other veins within the body, the leg veins endure the most pressure and have the toughest job. Healthy veins have one-way valves that open and close to assist the return of blood to the heart. Vein disease occurs when these valves become damaged, allowing blood to leak back into the legs and causing veins to stretch and enlarge. When blood is not properly returned through the veins, blood can pool causing pressure, skin changes and a feeling of fatigue. In time, left untreated, increased pressure can cause additional valves to fail and may lead to leg pain, swelling, spider veins, and varicose veins, and a decline in your overall health and wellbeing.
- Varicose veins are enlarged, swollen, twisting veins frequently linked to faulty valves. Varicose veins are often deep blue or purple in color.
- Spider veins are small, dilated blood vessels near the surface of the skin. Generally an indication of early stage venous disease, left untreated, spider veins can lead to varicose veins.
Venous disease is a very common health condition in the U.S. It is estimated that 25 million Americans have varicose veins. Although it affects both men and women of all ages, women are twice as likely to have vein disease. Venous disease can be aggravated by lifestyle habits and occupational risk factors. Standing or sitting for long periods of time and prolonged bed rest can increase the risk of developing vein issues. Aging, obesity, pregnancy and heredity can also be contributing factors. Vein symptoms may occur gradually over time and diagnosis is often delayed as symptoms are mistakenly attributed to aging or muscle fatigue. However, the condition can quickly deteriorate as the disorder progresses.
The most common symptoms of vein conditions are:
- Leg pain and discomfort
- Leg cramps or throbbing
- Muscle fatigue
- Restless legs
- Achiness or heaviness in the legs especially at night or after exercise
- Itching or burning sensation in the legs
- Minor injuries resulting in abnormal bleeding
Preventative measures can curb the progression of spider and varicose veins and reduce the need for invasive treatment options:
- Exercise increases overall circulatory health particularly when the activity utilizes the calf muscles. The rhythmic contraction of the calf muscles encourages the return of blood to the heart. Strenuous activities especially those involving the abdominal muscles such as sit-ups, crunches, and weightlifting, can have negative effects. Abdominal pressure can impair the return of blood, exacerbating the condition. Jogging and walking are good exercises for vein health.
- Forgo the high heels. Wearing high heeled shoes limits calf muscle activity affecting the muscles ability to pump blood back to the heart. Low heeled shoes can help tone your calf muscles to help move blood through your veins.
- Graduated compression socks can aid in the prevention, management and treatment of venous insufficiency. The external compression gently squeezes the stretched vein walls allowing better function of the valves and restoring blood flow to a more normal state.
- Elevation of the legs can alleviate pain or swelling resulting from early stage venous disease. Elevating the legs above the heart for three minutes several times each day can encourage blood flow from the legs and decrease blood pooling.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts extra pressure on your legs, circulation and your body in general. In addition, diabetes can further increase the risk of varicose veins due to poor circulation.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking causes veins to constrict and affects overall circulation negatively.
- Avoid clothing that is too tight around the waist, groin or legs. Even socks that are too tight can block the flow of blood, causing expansion of the vein walls and the beginning of varicose veins.
- Uncross your legs when sitting. Sitting for long periods of time with your legs crossed can increase the risk of developing varicose veins. Focus on good posture and get up frequently to keep circulation moving.
The best thing you can do to delay the onset of varicose veins is to keep the blood circulating in your legs. Think of your calf muscles as the center of your venous circulation. Pointing and flexing your feet, rising up and down onto your toes while standing or doing other exercises that engage the calf muscle will help to keep your blood flowing. Exercise frequently, elevate your legs whenever convenient, and avoid activities where you stand or sit for long periods of time.