The human body is complex, composed of a multitude of systems that all work together to support life. Each system has a role to play, and without any one of them working properly, the body cannot function as it is designed to. The cardiovascular system is especially important, as it circulates blood carrying nutrients, oxygen, and waste products to their designated destinations. It is susceptible to damage though. Among the myriad of potential issues that can plague the body’s cardiovascular system is one particular problem known as varicose veins.

How They Form

When working properly, veins are quite effective at pumping blood back to your heart. When you’re standing or generally upright, it’s an uphill battle for them though. Your veins have to work against gravity to return the blood to your heart, lungs, and other organs to dispose of the waste products your blood picked up along the way. To help the body transport blood against the force of gravity, there are valves within your veins that open to allow blood to move towards your heart and close to prevent it from flowing backward. When these valves weaken and fail, they become unable to prevent blood from flowing backward. This causes it to pool in the veins which can then cause them to bulge and twist.

Prevention

There isn’t a 100% foolproof way to prevent varicose veins, but there are some lifestyle choices you can make to help reduce your risk of developing them. You can develop varicose veins anywhere you have veins, but they are most commonly found in the legs. The muscles in your legs act as pumps when they contract, helping blood move effectively through your veins. Being active and keeping your leg muscles toned can help provide your veins with the support they need to work properly. You can also make transportation easier by elevating your legs to allow blood to flow along with gravity. Beyond that, developing high blood pressure can take a toll on the elasticity of the walls of your veins and make you more susceptible to developing varicose veins. Your diet has a major role to play in your blood pressure, so focusing on eating a heart-healthy diet can help protect your cardiovascular system from damage.

Treatment

Unfortunately, once varicose veins develop, they don’t go away on their own. The damage has been done, and while you may be able to decrease the symptoms you experience and reduce their appearance, you’ll need to have a treatment done to get rid of them. Fortunately, there are multiple treatment options available. Non-medical treatment options include wearing elastic bandages or compression stockings to provide extra support to the veins, as well as physical exercise and weight loss. Medical procedures such as laser therapy, sclerotherapy, radiofrequency ablation, and ambulatory phlebectomy have also proven to be effective treatment methods. Vein stripping is the surgical option if more intensive treatment is needed. Most varicose vein treatments are minimally invasive. Consult your doctor to help you decide which treatment method is right for you.

Symptoms

In many instances, varicose veins are easy enough to spot. They often appear like twisted, bulging blue or purple veins, most commonly seen on the legs. Varicose veins aren’t always visible though. Sometimes they’re deep enough within the body that you aren’t able to see them. Visible or not, you may notice symptoms like itching or skin discoloration in the area of one of your veins, or worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long time. If your varicose veins are in your legs, they may feel heavy or achy. You may notice a burning or throbbing sensation in your legs, accompanied by muscle cramping and swelling as well.

Complications

Varicose veins don’t typically result in complications, but they can happen. Such complications may include things like the development of ulcers, blood clots, and bleeding. All of these complications should be given medical attention if they arise. Ulcers due to varicose veins are most common in the ankle area. You’ll likely notice some skin discoloration as it begins to develop. Blood clots can be life-threatening and may be indicated by persistent leg pain or swelling. Bleeding is pretty obvious and is typically caused by veins near the surface of the skin bursting. While this typically only results in minor bleeding, it’s still a good idea to seek medical attention for it.

Risk Factors

Varicose veins are problematic, but who is at risk for developing them? As it turns out, most people are. Everyone ages and your risk of developing them increases with age. Women are also more susceptible thanks to the hormonal changes they undergo during pregnancy, pre-menstruation, and menopause. Beyond the hormonal changes, pregnancy also causes a significant increase in blood volume which puts further strain on the veins. If your family members have had varicose veins, you’re more likely to develop them yourself. Obesity and prolonged periods of sitting or standing also put extra strain on the veins, further increasing your risk of developing them.

Varicose veins are a problem that many people find themselves dealing with, especially as they age. While there is no sure-fire way to prevent them, there are treatments available that have proven to be effective. Take control of and protect your cardiovascular health so that you can be better able to live a long, happy, healthy life.

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