Have you noticed large, sensitive veins in your legs? Do you have pain or swelling in your legs at the end of the day? Do you suffer from restless legs? Have you noticed any changes in the color or texture of the skin near your ankles?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have varicose veins or venous insufficiency.
When the heart pumps blood, your body depends on thin-walled veins to deliver it. In the leg, gravity acts against this flow. Muscle contractions in the leg act like a pump, helping this system. Tiny valves in these veins open as blood flows to your heart, then close to prevent the blood from flowing back. If these small valves are damaged or weakened, blood can flow back and collect in the vein, causing the veins to stretch or twist, resulting in varicose veins.
Some risk factors for varicose veins include age, gender, pregnancy, family history, and leg trauma. Standing or sitting for an extended period of time can decrease blood flow to your legs and increase your risk of developing varicose veins.
Many careers, especially those in healthcare or factory work, require people to be up most of the day.
If you notice any symptoms, try one or more of these 7 tips for improving your leg health:
1. Change your position frequently.
Better to move than to stay still. Change weight often and stretch or walk at least every 30 minutes, to keep blood from pooling in your veins.
2. Exercise regularly.
Make exercise a priority when you’re not at work. Regular exercise can strengthen your heart and improve your circulation. Walking and yoga are great ways to encourage blood circulation in your legs.
3. Watch your weight.
Losing extra pounds relieves your veins. Losing just 10% of your body weight can make a difference.
4. Look at what you are wearing.
Avoid clothing that is tight around the waist, legs and groin. Wear low heel shoes instead of high heels.
5. Don’t smoke.
If you do, quit. Not smoking is good for your veins and your overall health.
6. Wear compression stockings.
You can buy compression stockings at most medical supply stores. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist before purchasing stockings, as your legs need to be measured for a proper fit.
7. Elevate your legs.
Before or after work, raise your legs above your heart for 15 minutes.
There are minimally invasive treatment options if your varicose veins don’t respond to these tips. In the past, people with varicose veins were treated with venous stripping, a surgical procedure that produced long scars. Today’s treatment options produce good results, both cosmetic and symptomatic, with little downtime and little scarring.
Radio frequency or laser ablation uses heat or light to damage the vein and cause it to collapse and recede. Another option is sclerotherapy, which injects a solution through a small incision in the ankle to cause the vein to collapse. After either procedure, most people can return to work the next day and see full results within two months.
Jared Slater, MD, is a general surgeon in Mankato and New Prague, Minn.