July 11, 2022
We’re all familiar with varicose veins, the twisted, enlarged veins that often look red or purple and can be seen through the skin. Although treatments are available, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ as the old saying goes. But what actually causes varicose veins, and what can we do to stop them from appearing in the first place?
Varicose veins are a type of venous disease. When it comes to helping out our veins, it’s important to remember that the choices we make every day for our overall well being will also impact our vascular health. A healthier, well-rounded lifestyle is the best way to keep your veins in good condition.
Exercise: We know that exercising is great for heart health, maintaining a healthy weight, staying fit and for releasing endorphins, but it’s just as important for our veins, as it keeps the blood pumping through them. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the main risk factors for developing varicose veins, so a little exercise every day can help keep them at bay. However, if you already have varicose veins or know that you are genetically predisposed to them, it’s important not to go overboard: high-impact exercise can actually put more stress on the legs, so longer periods of low-impact activity, such as walking or swimming, is better.
Watching your weight: This is essential for your overall health, but maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to help prevent varicose veins from forming. When you’re overweight the veins in your legs are put under significant strain, which can lead to varicose veins. Keeping to a healthy weight will lower the risk.
High-fibre, low-salt: Eating a high-fibre and low-salt diet will help to prevent varicose veins. Why? Simply put, constipation and water retention. Constipation puts more stress on your veins, and a good way to keep regular is to make sure there’s enough fibre in your diet. Water retention can add to the problem, so a low-sodium diet will help to keep your body hydrated.
Stay hydrated: Make sure you drink enough water throughout your day. The Mayo Clinic advises about 15.5 cups (3.7 litres) of fluids a day for men, and 11.5 cups (2.7 litres) of fluids a day for women. If that seems like a lot, you should aim to drink at least eight glasses of water throughout your day.
Avoid high heels: They may look great, but your favourite pair of high heeled shoes are putting extra stress on your legs and can contribute to forming varicose veins.
Elevate your legs: When you sit down, elevating your legs takes some stress off your veins and helps ease blood flow.
Change your position: Sitting in the same position can put stress on your veins, but so can standing up for long periods of time. If you’re able to, try changing your position from time to time, to help keep the blood flowing.
As with a lot of health problems, there are some things that are simply out of our control. Here are some risk factors for varicose veins that are, unfortunately, just the luck of the draw.
Age: The older you are, the more you’ll be at risk of forming varicose veins. Ageing causes wear-and-tear on the valves in your veins that help regulate blood flow. Eventually, that wear may cause the valves to allow some blood to flow back into your veins, where it collects instead of flowing up to your heart, forming a varicose vein.
Sex: Women are overall more likely to develop varicose veins than men. Additionally, hormonal changes before your period or during pregnancy or menopause might be a factor, because female hormones tend to relax vein walls. This also means that hormone treatments, such as birth control pills, might increase your risk of varicose veins.
Pregnancy: During pregnancy, the volume of blood in the body increases. This change supports the growing foetus, but can also result in enlarged veins in the legs. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also play a role, as mentioned above.
Family history: As with many things, genetics play an important role - so if your older family members have had varicose veins, you have a higher chance of developing them yourself.
While some of these factors are outside of your control, it’s important to identify whether you’re at greater risk of forming varicose veins so that you can focus on what is in your control by adopting healthy habits. Even if you happen to be in a higher-risk demographic, looking after your body as a whole will help to prevent varicose veins from forming - so use this information as extra incentive to exercise, maintain a balanced diet and stay healthy. And if all else fails and varicose veins do form, remember that treatment is always available.
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