Varicose veins: everything you need to know about treatment and prevention
Varicose veins wind their way along your legs in a really unsightly manner and in the first instance pose a cosmetic problem for those who are afflicted. But the venous disease can become a serious health risk!
What are varicose veins?
Diseases of the vein are widespread in Germany. The Deutsche Venen-Liga e.V. (German Vein Association) claims that every fifth woman and every sixth man suffers from advanced chronic vein disorder.¹
How are varicose veins formed?
Varicose veins are formed by a build-up of blood in the veins in the legs. In normal circumstances, the muscle pump pushes the blood from the legs back towards the heart by contracting the muscles, which presses the vessel walls together. In addition to that, venous valves prevent blood from flowing back downwards when the muscles are relaxed. If there is a functional disorder of the venous valve, or if the vessel walls become stretched, there is increased blood flow downwards and this creates a build-up which puts pressure on the veins, causing them to protrude visibly.
Doctors differentiate between two types of varicose vein, depending on the cause:
- Primary varicose veins: the cause of varicose veins in the primary form is usually a weakness of the connective tissue, which in many cases is hereditary or is caused by hormonal changes. Women, for instance, have an increased risk particularly during pregnancy. But also obesity, inactivity, smoking or an occupational activity predominantly requiring sitting or standing encourage the development of varicose veins. Quite often the intrinsically harmless spider veins are the preliminary stage. They are a first indication of weakness of the connective tissue and they can continue to spread. Because veins slacken as one gets older, the risk of developing varicose veins also increases.
- Secondary varicose veins: with secondary varicose veins doctors refer to those which occur as a result of another illness, e.g. due to thrombosis in the lower leg veins or heart failure.
As both types are practically indistinguishable from one another, your varicose veins should be examined by a phlebologist. The vein specialist will recommend an appropriate method of treatment, depending on the diagnosis.
Where can varicose veins appear?
Varicose veins typically appear on the legs, in particular on the calves and the lower legs, but also on the feet. They often extend into the upper thigh or even into the pelvic region. The main veins and their tributaries are affected. The following types of varicose veins are distinguished:
- Trunk varicose veins
- Lateral branch varicose veins
- Perforator varicose veins
- Pelvic varicose veins
- Reticular varicose veins
- Spider veins
How do you recognise varicose veins?
Usually, varicose veins are clearly visible and also palpable, because they enlarge due to the build-up of blood. They wind their way under the surface of the skin and can be long and narrow or thick and knobbly. People affected often suffer from heavy legs, which swell as the day progresses. Tension and aching occur in the legs and feet after standing or sitting for long periods. The symptoms are particularly severe in the warmth and in summer temperatures. In the advanced stage, water retention in tissue (oedemas) can develop.
How dangerous are varicose veins?
In contrast to harmless spider veins, varicose veins can become a serious risk. Complications such as vein thrombosis, vein inflammation, venous insufficiency or varicose vein bleeding can even be life-threatening. That is why varicose veins should always be examined by a doctor and constantly monitored.
The emergency doctor should be called immediately if severe pains occur in your leg, accompanied by symptoms such as chest pains and shortness of breath. Thromboses can cause pulmonary embolism which must be treated immediately!
How can I get rid of varicose veins?
Varicose veins are not only unpleasant to look at – in many cases, they present a serious risk. That is why it is really advisable not to take the venous disease lightly, but rather to have it treated. Various processes have proven to be successful in this respect:
- Physical therapies: in the case of a light manifestation of varicose veins there are various physical therapy methods which can slow down its spread, such as water treading or a Kneipp cure.
- Compression treatment: compression bandages and wearing compression stockings support the vein valves and muscle pumps in doing their work.
- Sclerotherapy: sclerotherapy involves eradicating the varicose veins. That means that they are stuck together by injecting a special medium. That prevents blood from collecting in the veins.
- Laser therapy: laser therapy requires the application of bundled light energy in order to collapse and to stick the veins together In the course of time, the damaged tissue is broken down by the body. Laser therapy is predominantly best suited for straight varicose veins, especially trunk veins.
- Radiofrequency therapy: radio frequency is a similar treatment to laser therapy. Here, too, heat causes the veins to collapse
- Surgery: sometimes a surgical procedure (Stripping or Partial Stripping) is the only option for removing varicose veins.
Since each type of treatment only removes the existing varicose veins, it may be that new ones develop at a different spot after some time.
How can I prevent varicose veins?
Although varicose veins cannot be completely prevented, their emergence can be delayed with the application of targeted actions.
- Nutrition: a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole foods is the basis for healthy veins. Avoid sugar, ready-made meals and alcohol and provide your body with vitamins and nutrients.
- Movement: the muscle pump in your legs only function with sufficient movement, and it then maintains the blood circulation of your veins. That is why regular strolls, light endurance sports and vein gymnastics are excellent preventive measures. In particular, people who are seated or standing all day should now and then walk on the spot, stretch and flex their feet or walk on tip-toes, in order to stimulate circulation.
- Lose excess weight: the heavier your body weight, the slower your blood flow is and blood builds up in your leg veins. Also, excess weight often causes damage to the vessels, which encourages the formation of varicose veins.
- Cold shower: cold water stimulates blood circulation. So get used to taking hot and cold showers and spray your legs with cold water at the end. That makes the vessels contract, and this training effect helps them to remain elastic for longer. A Kneipp cure also has the same effect.
- Put your feet up: if blood collects in your legs due to standing or sitting for long periods, it helps to put your feet up now and again. That helps the blood to flow back towards the heart.
- Medicines: medicines can help with the blood’s fluidity and in supporting vein walls, such as Veno SL® 300 (Mandatory information – in German) with the active ingredient Troxerutin, which is extracted from an ingredient of the Japanese Pagoda Tree.
In teenage years, bluish, finely-branched spider veins can appear on your legs, which can develop into varicose veins as time goes by. That is why it is particularly important to pay attention at an early stage to the health of veins and to support blood circulation in your legs.
Source: ¹ https://venenliga.de/venenliga-ev