Varicose Veins: Should I Be Worried?
Varicose veins are a common condition here in Australia, with worldwide prevalence rates estimated to be around 25%. While some people go decades without mentioning the presence of prominent veins to a healthcare practitioner, there are known dangers associated with prominent veins that can make it a concerning matter - both cosmetically and medically. Today, we thought we’d shed some light onto varicose veins, what exactly they are, how they appear - and whether you should be concerned.
What exactly are varicose veins?
Before we dive into varicose veins, let’s set the record straight about veins in general. We have veins all around our body. They have a super important role - transporting deoxygenated blood back to the heart and lungs after it is pumped out and carried by the arteries to deliver the life-giving oxygen and nutrients to all the tissues in our body. The veins also carry toxins and waste products for clearance.
Now for varicose veins…
Varicose veins are the blue, prominent veins on the surface of the skin. Some may bulge, have a twisted appearance and protrude from the skin. Others may stay below the skin surface but become discoloured, leaving you feeling apprehensive about the appearance of your legs.
Varicose veins are caused by problems with the valves in the veins as well as increased pressure within the veins themselves. Your veins have valves because they are transporting blood against gravity (they’re also assisted by muscles around the vessels), and the valves help prevent the backwards flow of blood. If your valves weaken (which they can naturally do over time) or become damaged, the blood can be left to pool inside the veins instead of continuing to move up the vein. This is what causes the vein to expand, get that ‘twisted tunnel’ appearance and turn visibly blue/purple.
You may be more vulnerable to developing varicose veins if:
- They run in your family
- You are overweight
- If you’re pregnant or have swollen feet or legs
- If your job or day-to-day life involves lots of standing or walking
- You smoke, which can cause vessel damage
Your varicose veins may also be accompanied by pain, swelling in the ankles or legs, changes to skin pigmentation and eczema.
Are varicose veins the same as spider veins?
No, these have some different characteristics - though often have similar causes. While varicose veins tend to be prominent, blue-purple, twisty and bulging, spider veins are much smaller, more often red-purple, that often have a spiderweb-like appearance, hence the name.
Should I be worried about prominent varicose veins?
For the majority of people, varicose veins only cause a cosmetic problem - that is, they don’t like the way they look. With this said, it’s still very important to raise any concerns and show your doctor any new varicosities that arise so they can make the best decision for your health.
This is as research shows that people with varicose veins may have a higher risk of developing:
- Blood clots and deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- Emboli (when blood clots travel through the vessels to other parts of the body and cause a blockage)
- Venous ulcers in the areas of the varicosities
If you start experiencing any pain or discomfort, burning, numbness, tingling, cramping or a heavy and tired feeling in your legs alongside the varicose veins, we recommend seeing your GP immediately to stay safe.
Can I prevent varicose veins?
As there are many different causes of varicose veins - including natural valve weakening, a family history and pregnancy, there is no one way to completely prevent them altogether.
The best way to reduce your risk of developing varicose veins is - and we hate to say these same words - but to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, get regular exercise to boost your circulation, and maintain a healthy weight.
- If you spend long hours on your feet for work, complete stretches regularly and elevate your legs when coming home from work to promote venous return
- Sleeping on your left side when pregnant may help promote your venous return as your heart will be positioned lower with less gravity to battle against
- If walking and other outdoor exercises are difficult for you, try swimming or gentle cycling. Our hydrotherapy classes are often a great way to start
- Maintain a healthy diet - limiting salt intake can help reduce fluid retention to relieve some pressure from the veins
- Limiting your time in high heels as they don’t promote full function and engagement of your calf muscles where varicosities often arise
How are varicose veins treated?
If you want to treat varicose veins or eliminate their appearance, your first step is a consult with your GP. They offer a number of venous therapies like laser, ablation, and surgical treatments.
Here at The Podiatrist, our go-to for conservative management and symptom relief is using compression therapy. Compression via stockings or socks is a great tool for promoting circulation, as the pressure placed by the stocking assists the vein valves to function properly in returning the blood back to the heart.
We also have an innovative Bodyflow system that we use to stimulate circulation in the feet and legs.We’ve been using this treatment very successfully to help with other circulatory problems like difficult-to-heal ulcers.
Worried about your veins or the circulation in your feet or legs?
If you’re worried about your feet and legs and any changes or symptoms you’re experiencing, we can help. Our podiatrists have been serving Toowoomba & Darling Downs for over 20 years. You can book your appointment online here or call us on (07) 4638 3022.