Varicose veins are swollen and enlarged veins. They usually look blue or dark purple and they are most common on the legs. They may also look lumpy, bulging or twisted. They are one of the most common circulatory diseases. Varicose veins can become a serious health problem if they are not treated properly.
Symptoms of varicose veins
As well as a rather unattractive appearance, symptoms of varicose veins can include:
- aching, heavy and uncomfortable legs
- swollen feet and ankles
- burning or throbbing in your legs
- muscle cramp in the legs, especially at night
- dry, itchy and thin skin over the affected vein.
People find the symptoms worse in warm weather and after standing up for long periods. They may improve when walking around and resting with their legs legs raised. Varicose veins usually develop on the back of the calf or the inside of the leg. However, they can also sometimes occur in the oesophagus, uterus, vagina, pelvis and rectum.
Causes of varicose veins
Varicose veins are usually caused by weak vein walls and valves.
Veins contain tiny one-way valves that open to let the blood through and close to prevent it flowing backwards. However, sometimes the walls of the veins become stretched and lose their elasticity – the valves weaken. Blood can leak and flow backwards and collects in the veins which become swollen and enlarged.
Who is most likely to get varicose veins
- Women are more likely to be affected than men. This may be down to female hormones relaxing the walls of veins, making the valves more prone to leakage.
- Genetics – varicose veins can run in families.
- Age – as we get older, our veins lose elasticity and the valves stop working as well.
- Obesity – being overweight puts extra pressure on veins and valves, making them more prone to leakage. The impact of body weight on the development of varicose veins appears to be more significant in women.
- Occupation – jobs that require long periods of standing can increase the risk of varicose veins. This is because the blood does not flow as easily when you are standing for long periods.
- Pregnancy – the amount of blood increases to help support the developing baby and this puts extra strain on veins. Added to this are the increased hormone levels during pregnancy which causes the muscular walls of the blood vessels to relax, which also increases your risk.
- In rare cases, varicose veins are caused by a previous blood clot, a swelling or tumour in the pelvis and abnormal blood vessels.
Exercises to combat varicose veins
The exercises below can play a role in preventing varicose veins from occurring as well as controlling them once you already have them. However, you should always first get some advice on your varicose veins from a doctor.
One of the most common causing factors for varicose veins is a sedentary lifestyle. Spending a lot of time sitting down or not moving your feet can cause circulatory problems and this encourages varicose veins to form. One of the most simple preventative measures is to keep your legs active.
Walking is a great exercise to keep legs active. Walking every day for at least a half hour will get the blood to circulate properly. It will also keep you in shape and control or reduce your weight as well which is good news for preventing varicose veins. Simply incorporate a walk into your usual daily routine – leave the car at home!
Another useful and easy exercise is stretching. Just sit on a chair with your heels firmly supported on the floor, raise the tips of your feet, lower them, and then raise your heels. This exercise imitates the movement that your feet do when you walk, but you can do it when you are sat at your desk or in front of the TV. Repeat this exercise 20 times on each foot.
Biking or imitating this movement is also a great option. You can use a real bike and go for a ride or use the exercise bike at the gym. If you cannot do either,.lie on your back with your feet in the air and support your hips with your hands. Move your legs in a way that mimics riding a bike. It will get the blood pumping.