When you think of ways to keep your body healthy, you probably can name plenty of choices for maintaining your heart and lungs, your muscles, and your joints. Most of us can list exercises and healthy food choices for keeping our major body parts in good shape. But what about your veins? Have you given them any thought lately?
Your veins may be one of the last things you ever think of about your health, but they can cause you difficulty if things go wrong. Varicose veins and their cousins, spider veins, can lead to significant discomfort and potential health problems.
First, An Anatomy Refresher
Two of your body’s main types of blood vessels are the arteries and the veins. They carry your blood throughout your body, circulating it through the heart on the way. Arteries are responsible for transporting blood away from the heart to all of the body’s tissues.
Veins have the opposite job. They have to carry the blood back to the heart. When you are sitting or standing, the blood in your feet and legs has to travel uphill, against gravity, to reach your heart. To do this, muscles contract and release around the veins to force the blood back up.
Varicose veins occur when increased pressure causes the veins to become gnarled and enlarged. They can become swollen, painful, and unsightly and can signal overall circulatory problems that need to be addressed.
When enlarged, varicose veins often look like twisted cords under the skin. They can be blue, red, or even flesh-colored. Although any vein can become varicose, those in the feet and legs are the most likely candidates, thanks to gravity.
Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but the symptoms are not so extreme. They tend to be smaller and closer to the surface of the skin. Typically red or blue, spider veins fan out in a web or tree branch pattern. They rarely are more than a cosmetic annoyance, but it is still worth checking with your doctor to rule out other circulatory issues.
Causes of Varicose Veins
There are several known causes of varicose veins, and this knowledge can help you understand how to prevent varicose veins, how to avoid varicose veins, or how to alleviate them. The common causes of varicose veins are:
- Sedentary lifestyle: Our modern workplace setups and screen-oriented world are keeping more and more people inactive at an earlier and earlier age. Without enough activity and exercise, your whole body takes an unhealthy hit, including your veins.
- Long stretches of sitting or standing in one position: As noted above, varicose veins in the feet and legs happen when the blood cannot travel freely back up to the heart. Standing or sitting for long periods of time can cause the blood to pool in your lower extremities, putting you more at risk for varicose veins.
- Aging: Quite frankly, aging kind of takes a toll on your entire body, and your veins are no exception. As bipedal beings, our feet and legs take a lot of pressure through the course of a lifetime, and without proper care, varicose veins are likely.
- Obesity: If you are overweight or obese, the added weight puts unnecessary pressure on your feet and legs which dramatically increases the likelihood you will develop varicose veins.
- Genetics: Like many other health conditions, there does appear to be a genetic component to varicose veins. If someone in your immediate family has or had them, you are at higher risk of developing them as well. Knowing this helps you be even more proactive in your health so that you have a chance to avoid varicose veins altogether.
- Pregnancy: Blood volume increases during pregnancy, but blood flow from the legs to the pelvis decreases as the body works to support the growing baby. For many women, this normal change can lead to the development of varicose veins. Fortunately, they often resolve within three to four months after delivery, assuming there are no other risk factors present.
Prevention of Varicose Veins
As with most illnesses and disorders, there is no way to guarantee you can prevent varicose veins from happening. Some risk factors, such as age, gender, and heredity are not under your control, making preventing varicose veins tricky.
The key is to be proactive in controlling what you can, namely lifestyle choices. Here are five ways to prevent varicose veins from happening or to lessen the effects if you already have them:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Indeed, this tip could go at the top of any list regarding disease prevention. The modern lifestyle in western industrialized countries does not make it easy to keep your weight at a healthy level. We have to be extra diligent in our food and exercise habits to counteract obesity.
- Keep moving. As Brad Pitt says in the movie, World War Z, “movement is life.” This is equally true whether you are fleeing zombies or caring for your veins. The more you move and change position throughout the day, the better you can avoid the pain and discomfort of varicose veins.
- Give your pregnant body a break. During pregnancy, especially if you have a family history of varicose veins, be sure to give yourself plenty of opportunities to put your feet up. If you are on your feet a lot for work, take frequent breaks to sit and raise your legs up, even if only for a few minutes.
- Make careful clothing choices. Avoid restrictive, tight clothing and hosiery as well as high heel shoes. All of these put stress on your circulatory system. Those stilettos may look great now, but they could come at a hefty cost down the road if varicose veins develop.
- Watch your food choices. Diet plays a huge role in the prevention of varicose veins. Include colorful fruits and veggies which are high in bioflavonoids. These nutrients are anti-inflammatory and help reduce swelling in your veins. Limit your salt intake while increasing your fiber and water intake.
We Can Help
If you are experiencing varicose veins or want more information about prevention and treatment, reach out to Metro Vein Clinic today. Our expert medical staff will help you find the solution you need.