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Varicose veins are veins that are swollen, twisted, or stretched; they often look blue and are close to the surface of the skin. Veins require the muscles in your legs and feet to help return the blood, against gravity, to the heart. To aid this process, veins have a series of valves to prevent backflow. When the valves break down, blood has difficulty moving upward pools, causing the veins to become engorged. Varicose veins are unsightly and uncomfortable, may bulge and feel heavy, or itch. Your legs and feet may also swell. Varicose veins may occur in almost any part of the body, but are most often seen in the back of the calf or on the inside of the leg between the groin and the ankle or in the pelvic region (hemorrhoids). They are more common in women and usually appear before age 40, but worsen with age. They also tend to run in families. The common symptoms of varicose veins are:
- Swelling in the legs
- Generalized leg aches
- Leg muscles that tire easily
- Feeling of heaviness in the legs
- Leg cramps
- Itching around the veins
Causes... Causes and risk factors for varicose veins include:
- Hormonal changes at menopause
- Activities and hobbies that require standing or lifting heavy objects for long periods of time
- A family history of varicose veins
- Past vein diseases, such as thrombophlebitis (inflammation of a vein before a blood clot forms)
- Repeatedly wearing clothing that is tight around the upper thighs
- Body positions that restrict lower leg blood flow for long periods of time (for example, sitting on a long bus trip)
Treatment... Medical treatment is not required for most varicose veins unless problems result. These include deep-vein blood clots or severe bleeding which can be caused by injury to the vein. Problems can occur without an injury, as well. Your doctor can take an X-ray of the vein (venogram) and/or special ultrasound to tell if there are any problems. Medical treatment includes:
- Surgery to remove the vein or part of the vein.
- Sclerotherapy, a chemical injection into the vein which causes it to close up.
- Laser therapy, which causes the vein to fade away.
See Your Doctor If...
- The varicose vein becomes swollen, red, very tender, or warm to the touch.
- The varicose vein has broken open and is bleeding under the skin.
- Varicose veins are accompanied by a rash or sores on the leg or near the ankle, or they have caused circulatory problems in your feet.
Self-Care Tips to Relieve and Prevent Varicose Veins...
- Don't cross your legs when sitting.
- Exercise regularly. Walking is a good choice; it improves leg and vein strength and circulation.
- Attain a normal weight.
- Don't stand for long periods of time. If you must do so, shift your weight from one leg to another every few minutes. Wiggling your toes can help, too.
- Wear elastic support socks that go up to the knee but do not cover the knee. The top of these socks must not fit tight.
- Don't wear tight clothing or undergarments that constrict your waist, groin, or legs.
- Eat high-fiber foods like bran cereals, whole grain breads, and fresh fruit and vegetables. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. These things help prevent constipation, which contributes to varicose veins.
- Limit your salt intake, to prevent swelling.
- Exercise your legs. From a sitting position, rotate your feet at the ankles, turning them first clockwise, then counterclockwise, using a circular motion. Next, extend your legs forward and point your toes to the ceiling, then to the floor. Then lift your feet off the floor and gently bend your legs back and forth at the knees.
- Elevate your legs when resting.
- Get up and move about every 34-45 minutes when sitting for long periods of time (such as traveling by air or attending a conference). When traveling by car, stop every 45 minutes and take a short walk.