Unsightly varicose veins are an unpleasant side-effect of aging that many women experience. In the past, the only effective treatment for ‘purple snake’ leg veins was to ‘strip’ them out surgically; a painful and not altogether successful procedure. Now there are much less traumatic alternatives available. So, what causes varicose leg veins, how can they be treated, and is it possible to prevent them from forming in the first place?
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are caused by a phenomenon called ‘venous insufficiency’ (VI). VI occurs when valves within the veins become damaged. Instead of returning to the heart, blood flows backwards, allowing pressure to build within the venous network of the body’s lower extremities, typically your legs. As a result, the veins become distended and lumpy, showing clearly through your skin as ugly blemishes. Sufferers may also experience pain, itching and even skin ulcers.
A precursor to large varicose veins is often the appearance of tiny spider web veins. Varicose veins can even lurk beneath the skin undetected for a period of time before emerging as ugly ‘purple snakes’.
What causes VI?
VI, and consequently varicose veins, has a number of causes including:
- family history
- female gender
- prolonged use of hormone therapy (e.g. HRT or oral contraceptives)
- poor circulation
- serious leg injuries
How can you prevent varicose veins from forming?
There are a number of ways in which you can prevent varicose veins from forming. Taking regular exercise helps to keep your circulation working efficiently, thus making it less likely that VI will set in. This also helps to keep your body weight healthy.
Smoking can cause the walls of your blood vessels to thicken, restricting the circulation of blood and predisposing the onset of VI and varicose veins. The same can be said of eating an unhealthy diet and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol.
Alternative treatments – diet supplements and herbal remedies
There are certain herbal supplements that you can take which are reputed to aid the prevention of varicose veins by strengthening blood vessels and promoting good circulation. These herbal remedies contain flavonoids, pigments that are renowned for improving circulation.
Flavonoids are responsible for the hues of brightly-coloured fruits and flowers, and it’s thought that including more of these in your diet might help prevent the circulatory problems that predispose you to varicose veins. Flavonoid-rich foods you could eat more of include:
- bell peppers
- red wine (in moderation!)
- citrus rind
Alternatively, look out for herbal teas and tablets that are rich in flavonoids.
Horse chestnut vein strengthener
Products derived from the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) are widely recognised amongst medical professionals as being effective in the treatment of VI. Horse chestnut extract can help strengthen the walls of the veins and also prevents UV damage.
In addition, a chemical compound (aescin) contained in the plant’s extracts actively helps to seal up minute holes in the capillary walls, preventing the leakage of blood into the surrounding tissues. This stops the formation of those pesky spider-web networks of fine lines that you sometimes get on your lower legs.
So, cougars; if you want your pins to thrive and stay sexy, quit smoking, drink alcohol in moderation, take more exercise and eat a healthy diet. But what can be done if varicose veins do appear, despite your best efforts at prevention?
How are varicose veins treated?
Sclerotherapy can be a really good alternative to the surgical treatment of varicose veins in some patients. The treatment involves the injection of a sclerosing foam solution into the damaged veins. This has the effect of causing the veins to close up completely, before being naturally reabsorbed by your body. Sclerotherapy is most commonly used to treat fine spider veins and small varicose veins that are no longer functioning.
The procedure is painless, there’s no scarring and recovery time is minimal. You’ll need to wear compression stockings and avoid hot baths, saunas or long plane flights for one week following the procedure.
In some cases, it may be necessary to undergo minor surgery to remove large varicose leg veins. However, this procedure is thankfully a million miles away from the traditional vein-stripping treatments of yesteryear. A combination of micro-incision phlebectomy (vein removal surgery) and laser treatment is used.
The procedure is carried out under local anaesthetic, so the patient feels no pain. Tiny incisions are made and the veins are extracted using a hook. Any bruising or minor discomfort will usually resolve itself after a couple of weeks, and as there are no sutures required, there is no scarring.
Simple laser vein treatments
Laser treatment is usually used to tackle fine spider veins. A highly-focussed laser light is used to seal the vein within the skin. Once the blood supply is cut off, the vein simply dissolves and becomes invisible. The treatment can take just a few minutes and recovery is pretty much instant.
Varicose veins needn’t spoil your pristine pins. These days they’re easily treated and can be removed quickly and relatively painlessly without leaving any scars. Prevent the dreaded ‘purple leg snakes’ from forming in the first place by eating healthily, taking regular exercise and quitting smoking.
If you’ve successfully banished leg veins from your life, do share your experience with other readers in the comments section below.