Talking about mini-skirts in my Body Project: Skin Essentials post, …..got me thinking about a few other conditions we must address prior to showcasing our summer-ready legs. One of these conditions is what I have found to haunt even the best cared for physiques….unsightly leg veins!
The veins in our legs have an important and difficult job. They push deoxygenated blood back up towards our hearts to be filtered and re-oxygenated. The aesthetically bothersome leg veins are referred to as varicose and spider veins. These are the types of leg veins bring women into clinics seeking care. According to the women’s health organization they affect over 50% or all women and over 40% of all men. They seem to creep up on us slowly and then get worse when we are not paying attention. They also tend to shock us from time to time, appearing in places we thought we might be spared. They are not pretty, make us feel old and bring attention to our legs in ways we do not desire…they must go! So what can we do about them?? I am breaking up this topic in 2 posts. Below I list the useful facts about this topic and important information to everyone on how to prevent them from appearing or getting worse.
What are spider veins and varicose veins and why do they form?
Varicose veins are winding and twisting tubular or cord-like structures that appear on legs. Not only are these a bit unsightly but they can get quite painful when swollen. Varicose can vary in size, depth, elevation and range from flesh to purplish in color. Varicose veins are a result of something called venous insufficiency (VI). VI results because the valves within the veins responsible for keeping blood flowing upward against gravity, get compromised (damaged or lose stiffness). The reason for this valvular compromise can be genetic, due to hormones, or associated with certain environmental factors such as diet, medications and activity. VI is also strongly associated with those who are overweight. Compromised valves have both health and aesthetic consequences; making it harder for these veins to do their job. When the valves get damaged, veins must compensate by getting wider, thicker and taking extra turns to make sure blood continues in the right direction and at the correct pace. This ultimately causes the vascular disfigurement we refer to “varicose veins”.
A spider vein, also known as a telangectasia, can be a less concerning, but more common sign of a compromised or challenged superficial venous vascular system. They result for much of the same reasons as varicose veins but also as a result of an injury to the superficial skin and tissues. Spider veins, look like varicose veins but are usually much smaller (less than 1mm in diameter), and most often not raised.
Other Contributing Factors
As we age, our vessels, like our skin, lose elasticity and get weaker and more susceptible to damage. Older veins are unable to handle the pressure younger vessels are able to withstand and our valves break easier causing more blood pooling and further weakening and disfigurement of the veins.
As mentioned above genetics and hormones also help dictate which individuals suffer most often from varicose and spider veins. Your genetics will dictate what type of valves you have and sometimes if you even have them at all!
Those who have family history of varicose veins are 50% more likely to suffer from them. Evidence of this lies in the fact that not even olympic athletes are not spared from developing spider and varicose veins.
Surges of estrogen and progesterone from pregnancy and supplementation can make us more susceptible to vein damage.
Some other environmental factors encouraging formation of varicose and spider veins: sun damage, excess weight, excess blood supply associated with pregnancy, constipation, injury or compromise to legs, hips or groin area, and prolonged standing or sitting.
Apart from the aesthetic, are there any medical concerns of which one should be aware of?
Yes, if your leg veins hurt when standing or walking or you notice a sore forming near one of the varicose veins, you should seek medical advice. The medical concerns that may arise as a result of varicose veins are:
- Venous stasis: Chronic blood pooling in the low leg could result in a skin condition known as stasis dermatitis. Stasis Dermatitis occurs because of the mounting pressure within the varicose vein results in sub-optimal nutrition of the surrounding skin. The skin becomes dark, dry or scaly and is more susceptible to ulceration formation. Once an ulcer forms, it can take months of professional care to heal and has high probability for reoccurrence.
- Superficial Phlebitis: Inflammation of the superficial vein may arise if a clot forms in a varicose or other superficial leg vein. If you notice your vein become warm, inflamed and tender…call your doctor immediately. Although superficial phlebitis is usually not usually associated with the dangers of a deep vein phlebitis, you should go and see your doctor so he can assure the low risk nature of your symptoms. Most often the superficial phlebitis will resolve with elevation of the leg, warm compresses, some aspirin and elastic support.
- Thrombosis: Those with severe varicose veins may be at risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVTs. DVT risk is increased with valvular insufficiency of the deep venous vascular system. DVTs are life-threatening, as the clots formed can dislodge and head straight for vital structures such as the heart or lungs. If you feel heavy pain, swelling and tenderness of your leg (most often your calf) which gets worse with upward bending of your foot…go to the emergency room immediately!
Although the tendency to accrue leg veins is highly genetic and based on sensitivity to certain hormones, there are certain things we can do to help prevent them.
- Exercise to help improve the overall health of the circulatory system, give optimal tissue nutrition and function.
- Maintaining healthy leg muscle tone, this will take some stress of the venous valves as the muscles will help stimulate blood flow in the right direction…..YOU NEED TO EXERCISE!
- Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding mid-section weight accumulation will limit pressure on the legs.
- Avoiding extended hours on our feet and when sitting elevate legs to give lower venous vascular system a rejuvenating rest.
- Avoid crossing your legs for long periods of time, especially on airplanes. This constricts blood flow in the veins, making more work for the venous vascular system of the legs.
- Practice inversions: Legs up wall pose, shoulder stands and head-stands are ways you can offer extra relief to the venous vascular system. I propose incorporating a 10 minute gentle relaxation/ inversion pose after you daily exercise. This will do wonders for your legs, metabolism and brain. Check out my post here “ABCs for a Rejuvenated Morning”.
- Wear support stockings when necessary and whenever possible. According to the Center of Vein Restoration “Gradient compression socks or stockings help improve the blood flow by compressing the veins and making the valves in the veins work more efficiently. This is done by delivering the highest level of compression at the ankle and gently decreasing this pressure up the leg. Improving blood flow helps the wearer experience immediate relief from tired, aching legs”.
- There are 3 kinds of compression stockings: Support pantyhose (no graduated, offer little support throughout the leg), gradient compression hose (offer more compression in the places most needed), and prescription strength compression hose (offer best and most pressure but need to be fitted and prescribed by professional). The last two can only be bought in drugstores and by medical supply companies…they are extremely effective but often less fashionable ): Lucky for us a woman in southern california started a brand that are actually quite fun!….., check out her website and styles here
- Massage and Lymphatic drainage to improve health of overall tissue, lymphatic and vascular system. Warning: if you experience pain with pressure applied to affected area of legs, do not get a massage and get a medical consult! To learn more on Massage benefits check out my previous post here!
- Eat a diet high in fiber and low in salt. This will help prevent digestive constipation and water retention which can attribute to increase pressure on the venous vascular system.
- Avoid using undergarments which squeeze hips, groin and low abdominal area; this could make more work for the leg veins to work against when trying to push blood through this area. I always tell people to beware of those tummy and buttock shapers if not equally providing support for the legs. These are ok for a few hours for a special occasion but regular use of extra tight support in this low middle area might encourage the formation of spider or varicose veins…especially if you have a genetic tendency!
- Wear comfortable shoes and avoid wearing high heels for long periods of time. Comfortable shoes cause less stress on our vascular system and therefore less trauma to our vessels and better circulation. Low heeled shoes can help tone our calve muscles, improve vein health and aid proper venous flow.
- Don’t Smoke. Smoke can inhibit optimal blood circulation and contribute to Vitamin C and Bioflavinoid deficiencies leading to poor elastin and collagen production and weakened vessels.
- Take leg protecting supplements which include helpful ingredients such as Vitamin C and B, hesperidin, diosmin, Fish oil, Gingko, Bacopa and Grape Seed. These ingredients help strengthen vascular structure and promote circulatory health
- Other supplements shown to improve venous insufficiency symptoms are Bilberry, Gotu kola, horse chestnut, butchers broom.
- An example of a supplement which incorporates many of these ingredients is Swanson Time Release Leg Vein Essentials.
- Increase foods high in antioxidants to improve tissue health and circulation: blueberries, green tea, grapes, berries, pineapples, chillies, dark chocolate, garlic, turmeric, fish, ginger and olive oil. For a list of foods which have shown promise in keeping veins healthy go to http://www.healwithfood.org/varicoseveins/foods.php
So I hope you got the background you needed to identify and understand what these leg nuisances are, why they form and what we can do to prevent them. For those of you who have already experienced an encounter with spider or varicose veins, check out my upcoming post “Leg Veins Part 2: The Solutions”. It should be out in a few days!!
Until then, I beg all shoe makers….please invent sexy, comfy, not-to-high heeled and fashionable shoes!! For the sake of conserving our young and beautiful legs!! We will be forever faithful! Anyone got any leg friendly and fabulous shoe favs??? Please share!