They’re not dangerous. But if you’ve got varicose veins, that’s probably small consolation. Dangerous or not, the twisted blue bulges are not a pretty sight. However, varicose veins can be successfully treated, if not prevented. And there are steps you can take to ease the condition.
Under normal circumstances, valves in the veins open to allow blood to flow toward the heart and close to keep blood from flowing back down. Sometimes, though, valves in the legs fail to seal properly. When that happens, blood leaks down into the vein and pools behind the valve.
Although varicose veins are no more than a cosmetic concern for many, a feeling of heaviness in the legs, night cramps, skin ulcers and phlebitis are among the potential complications.
Women are more likely than men to develop varicose veins—a fact due in no small part to pregnancy, when elevated hormone levels cause vein walls to weaken, contributing to valve failure. Heredity plays a role, too. In fact, if your mom had varicose veins, don’t be surprised if you develop identical bulges.
Couch potatoes also are more prone to the condition. Here’s why: With each step you take, the large calf muscles contract—much as the heart does. That motion helps pump blood back toward the heart. Because sedentary folk spend a lot of time off their feet, their calf muscles aren’t exercised. As a result, the muscles’ pumping action is stifled, allowing blood to pool in the legs.
Whether you have varicose veins or are trying to prevent them, here are some suggestions for keeping your legs in good shape:
Change position. If you sit or stand for long periods of time, it’s important to take frequent breaks. Walk around, do some leg lifts, flex your ankles.
Uncross your legs. Avoid crossing your legs at the knee or sitting with your legs crossed beneath you. Both postures hamper circulation and encourage blood to pool.
Exercise regularly. Walking, swimming, biking and other exercises strengthen calf muscles, helping them pump blood upward.
Shed excess weight. Extra pounds aggravate circulatory problems and contribute to weakened vein valves.
Put your feet up. At the end of the day, raise your legs so that they’re about 12 inches above heart level. This allows the blood to drain from the veins and aids circulation.