Varicose veins can appear anywhere in the body but most often affect legs and feet. Although they can be painful and disfiguring, they are usually harmless. When inflamed, they become tender to the touch and can hinder circulation to the point of causing swollen ankles, itchy skin, and aching in the affected limb.
Varicose veins are a relatively common condition, and for many people they are a family trail. Women are twice as likely as men to develop them. In the United States alone, nearly 10 percent of all adult men and 20 percent of adult women are affected by them to some degree.
To circulate blood from the lungs to all parts of the body, arteries have thick layers of muscle or elastic tissue. To push blood back to the heart, the veins rely mainly on surrounding muscles and a network of one-way valves. As blood flows through a vein, the cuplike valves alternately open to allow blood through, then close to prevent backflow.
Varicosity results from a chronic increase in blood pressure, which dilates the vein. When the vein walls are pushed apart, the valves no longer seal properly, making it difficult for the muscles to push the blood 'uphill.' Instead of flowing from one valve to the next, the blood begins to pool in the vein, increasing venous pressure and the likelihood of congestion while causing the vein to bulge and twist. Because superficial veins have less muscular support than deep veins, they are more likely to become varicose.
Any condition that puts excessive pressure on the legs or abdomen can lead to varicosity. Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy and menopause may be responsible for the high proportion of varicosities among women. Dietary deficiencies or the loss of skin elasticity due to aging are contributory factors. Prolonged standing or sitting, constipation, constrictive clothing, lack of exercise, obesity, or repeated heavy lifting can interfere with normal circulation to increase the likelihood that varicose veins will develop-and can worsen existing varicosities. In chronic cases, the distended veins may be accompanied by aching pain or itching, and if the stretched skin breaks down, open sores may form.
A mild case of varicose veins does not usually require a doctor's care. You can find relief from the discomfort of varicose veins with basic at-home treatment and various alternative remedies.
Superficial varicose veins normally do not require medical attention. To relieve the discomfort, your doctor may recommend elastic support stockings. Support stockings help your leg muscles push blood upward by concentrating pressure near the ankles. Put them on before you get out of bed in the morning. Raise your legs in the air and pull the stockings on evenly; they should not feel tight in the calf or groin. You should wear them all day.
To alleviate occasional swelling and pain, an over-the- counter anti-inflammatory drug such as aspirin or ibuprofen are usually prescribed. If you notice skin around a varicose vein becoming ulcerous or discolored, or if you have continuing pain with no obvious outward signs, contact a doctor at once about the possibility of deep varicose veins.
Varicose veins can be eliminated by one of several methods. Spider veins can be removed through laser treatment. A mild case of superficial varicose veins can be treated by sclerotherapy: A chemical known as a sclerosing agent is injected into the vein to collapse its walls so it can no longer transport blood. More severe cases may merit surgical removal, or stripping. Unfortunately, no treatment can prevent new veins from becoming varicose. Before pursuing a particular treatment, discuss all options with a dermatologist or vascular surgeon.
To cope with varicose veins, try a two-pronged strategy of natural remedies to ease the discomfort and preventive maintenance to keep your body fit and strong.
SP 5, SP II, BL 38, ST 32, ST 36, CV 1.
Blend 12 drops each of cypress and geranium essential oils in four ounces of a carrier oil such as almond, soy or sunflower. Gently apply the mixture to the legs by stroking upward, in the direction of the heart. Don't massage directly on the veins. Instead, massage the surrounding area and gently stroke the oil over the veins.
Oil of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) massaged gently into an affected area may help stimulate circulation by causing capillaries to dilate. Oils of cypress and chamomile (Matticaria recutita) may soothe swelling and inflammation and help relieve pain.
Use red and yellow all over the affected area for thirty minutes once per day. In cases of ulcers in the legs use blue light radiation for thirty minutes followed by ultraviolet for forty-five minutes, every day for ten to sixty days.
A high-fiber diet helps prevent straining of your stool,
which can build up pressure and aggravate varicose veins. It is recommended that you
consume at least 30 grams of fiber a day. To accomplish this, build your meals around
whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, adding these foods to your diet as often as
possible. Eat plenty of blackberries and cherries. They are rich in compounds that may
prevent varicose veins or lessen the discomfort they cause. (See juice therapy for
recommendations about fruit juices.)
Preferred Foods: Whole foods diet with emphasis on the following foods: fresh fruits, including berries and cherries, and citrus fruit making sure to nibble on the inside of the rinds, whole grains especially buckwheat and millet, garlic, onions, ginger, and cayenne pepper. Eat plenty of fish and cut down on red meat as much as possible. Moderately restrict fats and refined carbohydrates in diet.
Foods to avoid: Sugar, salt, alcohol, fried foods, processed and refined foods, animal protein, cheeses, and ice cream.
Chiropractors combine diet and lifestyle therapy with physical manipulation of the skeletal system to control varicose veins. Manipulation to relieve strain on the pelvis, for example, is intended to improve the flow of blood and other fluids through the body.
Witch hazel - Application of a witch hazel ointment three or more times is necessary for two or more weeks before results can be expected. (Witch hazel may cause minor skin irritation in some people when applied topically; this herb is not recommended for internal use.)
Horse chestnut - Can be used both internally and as an external application for problems of venous circulation, including varicose veins. (Horse chestnut should be avoided by anyone with liver or kidney disease. Its internal use is also contraindicated during pregnancy and lactation. Topically, horse chestnut has been associated with rare cases of allergic skin reactions. Since circulation disorders and trauma associated with swelling may be the sign of a serious condition, a health care professional should be consulted before self-treating with horse chestnut.)
Bilberries - Support normal formation of connective tissue and strengthen capillaries in the body, and in this way help prevent varicose veins.
Butcher's broom - Tons veins while reducing inflammation. Can also be prepared as tea.
Gotu Kola - Strengthens blood vessels and improve peripheral circulation.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba) - Strengthens blood vessels and improve peripheral circulation.
Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) - Strengthens blood vessels and improve peripheral circulation.
To disperse buildup of a protein that makes skin near varicose veins hard and lumpy, try eating more cayenne (Capsicum frutescens), garlic (Allium sativum), onion, ginger (Zingiber officinale), and pineapple, which contains bromelain, an enzyme that promotes breakup of fibrin.
Use two teaspoonfuls of the mixture. Infuse for fifteen minutes. Drink three times daily.
External applications of Camomile, Comfrey, Oatstraw, White
Oak Bark, or Witch Hazel are believed especially beneficial.
It is beneficial to alternate between hot and cold baths. This is believed to stimulate circulation in the legs. It is easy to do this. You need two buckets or plastic wastebaskets tall enough to submerge the legs up to the knees. Fill one container with enough comfortably hot water to cover the lower legs and the other container with the same amount of cold water. Add 2 tablespoons of epsom salts per quart of water or you can add an aromatherapy oil to the water. Soak your feet and legs in the hot water for about three minutes, then immerse them in the cold water for about 30 seconds. Repeat three times, finishing with the cold soak. Perform this treatment once a day for at least one month to see results. If you have diabetes, use warm (not hot) water.
Sponging or spraying legs with cold water can relieve aches and pain from superficial varicose veins.
Fresh fruit juices can be very helpful for those with varicose veins. Dark-colored berries such as cherries, blackberries and blueberries contain anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, pigments that tone and strengthen the walls of the veins. Pineapples are rich in the enzyme bromelain, which helps prevent blood clots, an uncommon but serious complication of varicose veins.
Juicing provides these nutrients in much higher concentrations than you can get by just eating the fruits. Drink eight ounces of fresh berry or pineapple juice, alone or diluted with another fruit juice, once or twice a day for maximum benefit.
One or two glasses daily of fresh fruit or vegetable juices- especially any combination of apple, beet, carrot, celery, citrus, parsley, or pineapple-and dietary supplements may be helpful in preventing and treating varicosities.
Maintaining your overall fitness, both nutritionally and physically, is most essential to preventing varicose veins from developing. Any program of regular exercise stimulates circulation, improves muscle tone, and helps prevent varicosities. However, high-impact aerobics, jogging, strenuous cycling, or any intense activity may increase blood pressure in the legs and accentuate varicose veins. Walking and swimming are considered excellent therapy, as are gentle leg-muscle stretches and utilizing a rocking chair while watching television.
Lying flat on the floor and resting the legs on a chair seat or straight up against a wall for 2 minutes drains blood from swollen veins. Elevating the feet higher than the hips with a recliner or ottoman, and raising the foot of the bed a few inches, helps blood flow back to the heart from the legs.
Start your morning with a brisk walk or finish your day with a swim or bike ride.
You can help control varicose veins with a program of specially designed exercises, under the direction of a trained exercise therapist who is knowledgeable about the condition's particular needs.
Regular massage can significantly alleviate discomfort associated with varicose veins. A trained massage therapist starts at the feet and massages your legs up to the hips and along the lymphatic system, to mobilize congested body tissues.
If you do the massage yourself, remember to never massage directly on varicose veins. A general leg massage can help reduce swelling in the veins. Sit up comfortably on a sofa or bed, with your legs raised slightly on a pillow. Now work up the entire leg from the ankle to the upper thigh. (Remember not to touch the varicose veins.) Do this daily for about five minutes on each leg.
Working your hands or feet may help with varicose veins. Massage the whole feet or hands and press the following points three times per day for five minutes each point after massaging the whole feet: 18, 19, 24, 25, 21, 22, 34, 26. (adrenal and parathyroid gland, digestive system (especially the liver), spine, heart and sciatic nerve.)
Yoga's stretching and relaxation techniques can be particularly beneficial for varicose veins. Certain positions, such as the Plow, Corpse, and Half Shoulder Stand, promote circulation and the drainage of blood from the legs. The deep-breathing exercises in yoga may further alleviate discomfort by getting more oxygen into the bloodstream.
A special breathing exercise can help ease pain from varicose veins. Start by lying on your back on the floor, arms at your sides, with your feet resting above you on a chair. Breathe deeply through your nose using the belly breath. Gravity helps pull blood from your legs. The deep breathing creates a pull in your chest cavity that also draws blood from the legs. Fresh blood then enters your legs, easing the pain. Do this exercise once a day for about ten minutes.
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