An estimated one in four of us has varicose veins. They can be extremely painful, especially if you spend a lot of time standing, and if left untreated, can lead to skin damage (red and brown skin near the ankles), venous eczema, leg ulcers and phlebitis, which is clotting in the vein.
What are varicose veins?
The word ‘varicose’ comes from the Latin for ‘dilated’. Varicose veins are veins that are permanently dilated. They occur mainly in the lower extremities because of the greater pressure exerted on them. Muscles in the foot, calf and thigh act as pumps to push blood from the foot to the heart. Valves in the vein close like gates if blood tries to run in the wrong direction, but if these valves fail to work properly, blood is forced to flow back down the leg causing superficial veins under the skin to bulge. In effect, the varicose veins you see in your legs are due to blood damming up in superficial veins and their branches. Why these veins fail is not completely understood but it may be due to a weakness in the valve itself or in the vein wall.
Who is affected by varicose veins?
Many people think of varicose veins as being a ‘female affliction’ and while pregnancy can be a contributing factor, many men are affected too, especially those with jobs that require them to spend hours at a time on their feet, or sat behind a desk. In addition to the veins themselves, legs can often feel tired and heavy and may be prone to swelling and cramping.
Help with varicose veins
In severe cases surgery is the sensible option, but if you take care of your legs before they get to such a serious stage, then less drastic treatments can go a long way.
1. Although probably not the look you’re going for, support stockings can help. They work by exerting more pressure near the ankles and feet, providing an extra squeeze that promotes blood flow.
2. Avoid standing for prolonged periods of time and if you do have to stand for a while, make a point of changing your position, shifting from one leg to the other.
3. Try some leg exercises or wiggle your toes now and again to help support your circulation.
4. Give heels a miss – low heeled shoes or flats work your calf muscles harder which is better for your veins.
5. Try to maintain a healthy weight to take the pressure off your veins, and take plenty of regular exercise.
6. To help reduce heavy legs and swelling, elevate your legs above the level of your heart for about 10 minutes each day. A simple way of achieving this is by lying down and resting your legs on a stack of pillows.
3 of our favourite products for healthy veins
Horse chestnut is probably the most popular herb used in the treatment of varicose veins. It is the seeds of the horse chestnut tree which are used medicinally and these are the same seeds gathered each autumn for the game of conkers. Try A.Vogel’s Venaforce Horse Chestnut tablets , £12.50 for 30 tablets.
If legs feel heavy or tired, try Venagel Horse Chestnut Gel, £12.35 for 100ml. With extract of fresh horse chestnut, it helps to cool and soothe tired, heavy or aching legs. Smooth upwards and massage into legs.
Lamberts Horse Chestnut Complex , £11.95 for 60 tablets, combines horse chestnut seed extract, anthocyanidins (plant-derived antioxidants that are important for healthy veins, blood vessels and capillaries), and the bioflavonoid rutin.