11 March 2011
Dr Supriya Antarkar Joshi
What are varicose veins?
Our body has two major blood vessels – Artery and Vein. Artery is the blood vessel carrying oxygenated blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Vein is a blood vessel that carries de-oxygenated blood from the other parts to the heart. That is why it appears bluish. The longest veins in the body are those in the legs. They have to pump blood from legs to the heart. They also have to overcome the effect of gravity in sitting or standing position when pressure in them increases.
Under normal circumstances, in order to avoid any backward flowing of blood, veins have valves at regular intervals. These valves open only for blood flowing towards the heart (i.e. in upward direction). When these valves do not work properly some amount of blood flows in backward direction leading to "varicose veins".
Who can get varicosities?
Varicose veins are predominantly found in legs. It commonly affects females over 40 years of age. It is especially seen in individuals who need to sit or stand for long or who have the habit of sitting in cross-legged position for long durations. This is because static positions put excessive pressure on the veins. The chance of getting varicosities is more in obese persons due to weight. Injury to leg in form of fracture or an open wound may also initiate valve dysfunction. Varicose veins can affect pregnant females too due to increased weight of the uterus.
What are the symptoms?
Usually the first sign is the visible blue veins on the legs. You may also get itching in the area around the veins due to accumulation of toxic waste products. But never scratch as it may lead to ulcers. There could be swelling around the ankles on sitting or standing for long, or you may develop cramps on walking. There may be also brownish shiny discolouration around veins. You may as well experience delayed wound healing.
Varicose veins, if left untreated, reduce stamina, and give pain in the legs on slightest movement even while resting. In complicated cases, there may be ulcer development due to lack of proper blood circulation and in severe cases it may also cause thrombosis in veins (blood clot in veins).
How to treat varicose veins?
It is important that you never neglect them. Most of the times, varicose veins can be treated with exercises if you see a doctor soon. Severe cases though may require medication or surgery. Exercises for varicose veins need to be tailor made – they should be specific to your condition.
Along with exercises, taking the following precautions is necessary:
- Wear compressive stockings when sitting or standing for long durations.
- Elevate your legs on pillows after prolonged static postures.
- Do not sit in cross-legged position.
- When travelling long distances, stop periodically and walk around.
- Avoid wearing ill fitting shoes.
- Avoid wearing clothing that restricts circulation such as socks with tight bands.
- Do not wear jewellery like anklets, toe rings etc.
- Do not use hot packs for varicosity pains.
- Keep the skin clean and supple. Use moisturisers but avoid perfumed lotions.
- Pay immediate attention to skin cuts, rashes, bites, etc.
- Avoid hot baths and saunas.
- Properly done massage therapies help as well.