We often hear from people seeking treatment for their varicose veins or spider veins. They call their condition by name because these are both pretty well-known. While it is understood what is meant by the diagnostic terms varicose veins and spider veins, your vascular specialist knows that these conditions are merely signs of another, larger problem: venous insufficiency. Venous insufficiency is behind both of the more recognizable vein problems. It is characterized by changes in the walls or valves of veins that have become weak over time. Normally, the valves in veins can shut completely after blood has passed through. This closure prevents the blood from moving in the wrong direction. There are several valves along the length of any given vein. Where a valve is not closing properly, the vein will start to swell. The concern with faulty valves and weak vein walls is that, once the problem begins, it can be difficult to stop. Our goal at that point is to manage the condition so that the veins that have started to exhibit symptoms do not worsen. With certain steps, it is possible to slow the progression of venous insufficiency or, maybe, halt the process of vein swelling for an extended period.
Do you have venous insufficiency? The signs of spider veins are pretty obvious. The red, blue, and purple webs of veins are immediately recognizable. Varicose veins, on the other hand, may present signs that occur before a vein becomes visibly swollen and ropy. These include:
- Cramping or aching sensation
- Leg cramps or twitching when you try to sleep
- Itching or tingling on the skin above the vein
- Skin discoloration near the varicose vein
- A sensation of heaviness or leg fatigue
- Pain feels worse when standing and feels better when the legs are elevated
- Leg ulcers
Venous insufficiency does not go away on its own. Some people require vein treatment to eliminate very symptomatic varicose veins. Once a varicose vein develops, or spider veins for that matter, you know there is a risk for more. To manage this risk and also manage the symptoms of the veins that have already developed, try the following:
Elevate Your Legs Regularly
Elevation is a leading recommendation for people with varicose veins. It can be helpful to sit back in a recliner at the end of the day. This can feel very relaxing and comfortable. However, for better results, elevation should involve raising the feet above the level of the heart. One way to do this is to lie on the floor and position your legs up on the wall. Your buttocks should be pressed right up to the wall to create a 90-degree angle at your waist. Sitting like this for a few minutes before bed is said to promote better sleep. Sitting like this for a few minutes any time of day helps the blood move forward out of the vein. Another way to elevate the legs is to lie on the floor with your knees at a 90-degree angle. The lower legs can rest on the seat of a sofa or chair.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Our weight affects how much stress our veins experience on a daily basis. Excess weight increases the pressure on the veins in the legs, and also on the muscles that are meant to compress the veins and move blood up and out. Another aspect of being overweight, in many instances, is that there is a lack of physical activity happening on a regular basis. To lose weight and maintain a healthy weight for vascular function, it is necessary to follow a healthy diet and also move around every day. More on that in a moment. In terms of a healthy diet, doctors recommend simple trades like fast food for homemade meals. Ideally, these meals will be rich in fresh vegetables and lean meats and low in sugar, salt, and carbohydrates. Weight management may need to involve using a calorie counter or even a carb tracker, depending on other health conditions that need to be attended to.
If you’re making lifestyle changes to support better vein health, chances are your sodium intake will go down naturally. This is important to mention, though, because the amount of sodium that we consume correlates to how much water our body holds. The more salt in the diet, the more water retention is happening. The more water retention you have, the more fluid your veins are moving and the greater the risk that the veins will swell.
Increase Physical Activity
One of the ways that blood circulates out of the legs is through the pumping action of the calf muscles. If your days are spent sitting at a desk and moving around very little, your calf muscles aren’t pumping as often or as strongly as they should for optimal vein health. To manage venous insufficiency, it is essential that you move more frequently. If you spend hours at a desk job, get up every hour or so to take a short walk. Even just standing up and sitting down a few times helps contract the calf muscles and move blood upward. In your free time, walking is one of the best things you can engage in to help reduce your risk of future varicose veins. Walking for 30 minutes, five days a week has been shown to improve the symptoms of existing varicose veins and also help reduce the effects of venous insufficiency overall. There are also several floor exercises that can help support vein health, including leg raises and ankle rotations.
The veins are naturally compressed by the calf muscles when these are contracted. When the signs of venous insufficiency are apparent, a doctor may find it necessary to increase the amount of compression on the lower legs. Compression stockings are knee-high socks that have graduated tightness. They are usually tighter at the foot and ankle and gradually looser as they move up the leg. It may be helpful to wear compression stockings when working out or for a specific amount of time each day.
At Sun Vein & Vascular in Dallas, patients can explore various treatments for varicose veins and venous insufficiency. To discuss your condition and how to manage it, contact us at (214) 556-8880.