Treating and Preventing Those Pesky Varicose Veins
"While not every case of varicose veins is serious, many of them can be, and can lead to serious health issues."
Unsightly varicose veins. About 20 million Americans — 25% women and a good percentage of men — will have to deal with them at some point in their lives. Today’s live show with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD, explains what we can do to help prevent varicose veins and spider veins too. She’ll also discuss both the top surgical and natural non-surgical options available, and along the way, dispel the myths and misinformation out there about varicose veins.
- 04:36: Varicose Vein Myths (and Truths)
- 14:01: Understanding Varicose Veins
- 14:54: Varicose Vein Risk Factors
- 16:35: Varicose Veins vs. Spider Veins
- 19:42: Varicose Vein Symptoms
- 21:32: Traditional Medical Treatment Options
- 26:07: Non-invasive Treatment Options
- 28:22: Naturopath Treatment Options
- 31:06: Prevention Methods
- 39:00: Best Foods for Reducing Varicose Veins
- 42:05: Wrap-Up
The word varicose comes from the Latin word varix, which means twisted. That’s what varicose veins are — they’re bluish-purple veins, most often found on your legs, that have become twisted and have risen to the surface of your skin. A lot of people have them, and there’s also a lot of misinformation out there about what causes them. So let’s talk about some Varicose Vein myths.
Varicose Vein Myths (and Truths)
Crossing your legs causes varicose veins — FALSE
This is a common misconception, but the truth is that crossing legs does not cause varicose veins. Neither does wearing tight shoes or tight pants — although these things can exacerbate varicose veins if you already have them.
While increased pressure can cause blood to pool inside a vein and make the vein bulge, it’s not external pressure that does it (besides which, tight clothing and leg crossing produce only minimal pressure.) It’s more likely due to defective valves in your veins or weakened vein walls.
If your family members have varicose veins, you will too — PARTLY FALSE.
This one’s not a hard false, but it’s a maybe. Just because your parents or grandparents had varicose veins doesn’t necessarily mean you will. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, varicose veins run in the family for only half of all people who have them.
Women are affected by Varicose Veins more than men — TRUE.
This is true, but not by much. While varicose veins are more common in women, they are not just a women’s issue — men get them, too. About 25% of adult women have some visible varicose veins, compared to 10 to 15% of men.
Running Does NOT Cause Varicose Veins — TRUE.
Exercise — including running — is usually a good thing for your veins. Exercise is always good for the circulation — walking, jogging, or running can lead to more calf-muscle pumping and more blood returning to the heart.
So, running doesn’t cause varicose veins, but there is some controversy about whether exercises may make them worse if you already have them... and we really don’t know the answer yet. Compression stockings can help prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs during exercise, so we recommend trying them and when you’re done running and are cooling off, elevate your legs — keep reading for more on that.
Varicose Veins Are Only a Cosmetic Issue — FALSE.
The varicose veins you notice are right at the surface of the skin, but they also occur deeper in the body, where you can't see them. Sometimes surface veins are the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot more going on than what’s visible.
A lot of people are told by primary care doctors or others that varicose veins are just cosmetic, but many times they can be much more than that. In fact, People with varicose veins are also at an increased risk for a dangerous type of blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis. So, it is important that we take varicose veins seriously.
Now let’s dive into a quick anatomy lesson to better understand varicose veins.
Understanding Varicose Veins
Veins bring low oxygenated blood into the heart where it gets fresh oxygen before it is pumped back out and away from the heart by the arteries. To make sure the blood only flows in one direction, veins have tiny valves in them. These valves can become weak over time, and when that happens, blood can begin to flow backward, causing it to build up and the veins to swell. These are varicose veins.
Varicose Vein Risk Factors
People who are at risk of getting varicose veins include people who:
- Work on their feet all day
- Are obese or severely overweight
- Have a family history of varicose veins
- Are pregnant
- Lead a sedentary lifestyle
- Smoke heavily
- Are elderly
They can happen anywhere, but more often than not, you’ll see them on the legs. They occur when pressure builds up in the legs and abdomen, and if you are someone who is at risk of getting varicose veins, the blood has to work extra hard against gravity to reach the heart, especially if those one-way valves become weakened.
Varicose Veins vs. Spider Veins
Varicose veins are easy to spot. They’re dark colored veins that snake along, just below the skin’s surface.
Don’t confuse varicose veins with spider veins though; the two might appear similar, but are drastically different. Their appearances are not exactly the same, but their causes are somewhat similar.
Spider veins usually look like fine lines or web-like shapes. Some people describe spider veins as “starburst clusters” since they tend to show up as many dark dots concentrated together in one area, mostly on the surface of the skin.
Just like varicose veins, spider veins normally show up on the lower extremities: the legs, backs of the thighs, calves, ankles, and feet. Spider veins are usually smaller than varicose veins and not as painful or likely to cause symptoms since they’re located on the surface skin layers. Another similar condition is called reticular veins, which are larger than spider veins but smaller than varicose veins.
In order to be properly diagnosed and to see the quality of blood flow in the veins, a duplex ultrasound may be ordered by your doctor. A duplex ultrasound uses two types of ultrasound — a traditional ultrasound and a Doppler ultrasound. The Doppler ultrasound is what measures the speed at which your blood is flowing.
Varicose Vein Symptoms
Symptoms that sometimes accompany varicose veins include:
- Swollen ankles
- Achy, burning, or heavy sensation in the legs
- Skin discoloration
At their worst, varicose veins can lead to blood clots, bleeding, and skin ulcers.
The presence of spider veins — spindly little veins that are blue or even red in color and look like a spiderweb below the skin — may be a sign that you are at risk of getting varicose veins.
While not every case of varicose veins is serious, many of them can be, and can lead to serious health issues, including dangerous blood clots. For others, varicose veins are harmless and don’t cause any pain. However, people often feel embarrassed by the way they look, even if they don’t signify anything more serious.
Traditional Medical Treatment Options
There are a few treatment options your doctor will tell you about, especially if the varicose veins are severe enough.
Varicose Vein Stripping Surgery
This is the most severe and invasive treatment option. Surgery for varicose veins is called varicose vein stripping. This is an outpatient procedure that takes about 60 to 90 minutes to complete. Either local or spinal anesthesia is used, but in either case, you’re awake for the procedure. The veins are removed via two small incisions and a plastic wire, which is first threaded through the vein at the top, and subsequently pulled out through the second incision. Recovery time lasts anywhere from two weeks to a month, during which time, staying off your feet as much as possible and keeping the legs elevated is important to the healing process.
This involves injecting a saline solution into your varicose veins, at which point, the vein collapses, preventing it from carrying blood. Other veins are then forced to take over the job the varicose veins were carrying out. The old vein turns into scar tissue and fades from sight. If the varicose vein is large, foam sclerotherapy may be performed. This is when a foam solution is injected into the vein to seal it off and stop the flow of blood.
This is also available, as is a catheter-assisted procedure. These are two additional methods that cause the varicose vein to collapse and close. Laser treatment does not require any incision to be made, whereas, catheter-assisted laser treatment requires an incision to insert a small catheter into the vein. From there, either laser or radiofrequency energy is used to heat the end of the catheter, and as it is removed, the heat causes the vein to collapse.
All of these the more severe and invasive procedures. They may be necessary sometimes, but we do want to avoid them at all costs — so let’s look at a few ways to prevent and treat various veins that do not require invasive medical procedures.
Non-invasive Treatment Options
Keep your legs elevated
This treatment option is not invasive at all! It can work as a preventative measure, too. If you already have varicose veins, sit with your legs elevated above your heart or get yourself into Legs Up the Wall pose, by laying on your back with your legs up against the wall. Elevate the legs in some way up to four times per day for 15 minutes each session.
These are special elastic socks that you should put on first thing in the morning — before your feet even touch the floor out of bed — and they help get the blood flowing back to your heart in an unobstructed way.
Naturopath Treatment Options
And how about some naturopath treatment options, such as:
- Horse chestnut extract — this is an herbal remedy that can supposedly increase circulation in the body. One study found people with varicose veins who consumed 50 mg of horse chestnut twice daily saw the same results as if they wore compression socks. If you decide to explore this option, make sure you take it exactly according to the directions on the package. Horse chestnut can be toxic if you take too much. Note that Dr. Nancy has not used this with her clients, so her experience with it is limited. If you do try it please let us know how it works for you.
- Butcher’s broom is another herbal remedy that is often talked about for varicose veins. It’s said to increase circulation and toughen blood vessel walls, (Dr. Nancy has not used this treatment option either). Please consult your doctor if you decide to take butcher’s broom, as it is believed that it shouldn’t be taken in conjunction with blood pressure medication or by those with high blood pressure.
- Eat a flavonoid-rich diet. Foods like berries, garlic, onions, broccoli, and spinach are rich in flavonoids, which naturally improve circulation. Eating foods that are loaded with flavonoids will help keep your blood flowing and prevent it from pooling. Flavonoids also relax blood vessels, which will also reduce your chances of getting varicose veins.
There are also several things you can do to prevent getting varicose veins, including:
A lot of our veins are buried deep in our muscles so when you exercise, you stimulate blood flow.
Avoid sitting or standing for too long. Again, the veins are located in our muscles, so even if you get up and walk around for a bit every hour, you’ll be encouraging proper blood flow through your legs. When sitting down, put your feet up if you can, and avoid sitting in a cross-legged position.
Either get a massage and have your masseuse focus on your legs or give yourself a little self-massage. Gently rub the calves and front and back of the thighs to keep the blood going and flowing. You can also use essential oils like the horse chestnut we mentioned earlier, or grape seed and pine bark, two additional oils believed to reduce swelling. Simply put a few drops in a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba and massage your troubles (and your varicose veins) away.
Reflexology is another very popular way to ensure blood is flowing through your veins. For those of you who may not be familiar with this, reflexology involves using gentle pressure on various points along the body that are believed to be connected to your organs and other systems, like your veins.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet (rich in flavonoids) every day
We already covered the flavonoid part, but eating anti-inflammatory foods can be helpful, too. Antioxidants, such as flavonoids, vitamin C, and vitamin E, are both present in green veggies and citrus fruits. They help strengthen veins, fight inflammation, and improve arterial health. Vitamin E is known to help prevent blood clots, acts like a natural blood thinner, and is also tied to heart health. And vitamin C is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and beneficial for skin health.
Veins can become inflamed, and a more serious condition that stems from varicose veins is called phlebitis. Directly translated, phlebitis means inflammation of a vein. When the veins become inflamed, this can also lead to blood clots, which can lead to something more serious like a pulmonary embolism if it were to become dislodged. Eating anti-inflammatory foods will help prevent inflammation throughout the body and will lessen your chances of developing varicose veins and the more serious issues associated with them. Plus, eating these types of foods will also help you maintain a healthy weight, another factor that contributes to the risk of varicose veins. In addition to eating anti-inflammatory foods, make sure you are taking your curcumin every day – Smarter Curcumin is an incredible blend of inflammation-fighting ingredients to lower the daily inflammatory load on your body.
Also, try and avoid foods that are high in sodium. Salt will cause you to retain water, which can increase swelling in the legs. Foods high in potassium like leafy green vegetables, salmon, lentils, and almonds help prevent water retention. As a bonus, these are all anti-inflammatory foods, so load up!
If you’ve seen Dr. Nancy’s other shows, then you know that eating certain specific foods help reverse inflammation and improve blood flow. This can be found in her anti-inflammatory diet booklet. This same diet also makes it possible to heal varicose veins faster and prevent future ones from forming. It is important to avoid eating a diet high in things like trans fats, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods. These contribute to arterial damage, low circulation, blood pressure problems, hormonal imbalances, and weight gain. Many of these foods are also high-sodium foods, which is dehydrating, and contain toxins that can worsen swelling in varicose veins.
Best Foods for Reducing Varicose Veins
The best anti-inflammatory foods for reducing the appearance of varicose veins, in addition to flavonoids and Vitamins C and E, include:
- High-fiber foods — Fiber helps improve heart health and is also necessary for healthy digestive functions. Eating 30 – 40 grams of fiber every day is a great way to prevent constipation, which can cause bloating and increased pressure on the veins around the abdomen and legs. High-fiber foods to eat include chia seeds and flaxseeds (which are also omega-3 foods), soaked/sprouted legumes, and dark, leafy greens.
- Magnesium-rich foods — Blood pooling, blood pressure problems, leg cramps, and restless leg syndrome are warning signs of deficiencies in electrolytes like potassium and magnesium. To overcome these symptoms, increase intake of things like leafy greens, avocado, bananas, cruciferous veggies and sweet potatoes. A great way to ensure you are getting enough magnesium each is to take a magnesium supplement that is derived from organic food sources, not synthetic sources, like what you get from the Smarter Multivitamin.
Today we gave you the low-down on those varicose veins that usually make an appearance on your legs. They’re those windy, bluish-purple veins that rise to the surface of your skin, and they’re caused by weakened valves in the veins that can no longer move blood toward the heart adequately. The blood pools in the veins and causes them to swell, which then presents itself as those veins that rise to just below the skin’s surface.
Other symptoms associated with varicose veins include swelling, a heaviness in the legs, and sores. Varicose veins can also lead to blood clots and ulcers, especially if you are a person who is at risk of developing varicose veins. At-risk groups include people who either sit or stand for too long, are genetically predisposed, or are overweight, pregnant, or elderly.
You can prevent varicose veins by maintaining a healthy weight, eating anti-inflammatory foods that are also rich in flavonoids and potassium, exercising, and elevating the legs whenever you are sitting down.
If you already have varicose veins, there are several treatment options available to you, like vein stripping and laser treatment. Natural remedies include taking horse chestnut or butcher’s broom to help increase circulation. You can give these treatment options a try, and also make sure you are supplementing with the proper vitamins and minerals – those you can get in your daily Smarter Multivitamin.