At a Glance: Varicose Veins

If you have varicose veins, consider compression hose, which help move blood back up to the heart and lungs.
If you have varicose veins, consider compression hose, which help move blood back up to the heart and lungs.

Veins, like other internal structures of the body, are things most of us prefer to remain unseen. But when a condition like varicose veins develops, the gnarled, swollen blood vessels are on display for the world to see -- through the skin, that is. While this condition is rarely dangerous, it can lead to cosmetic concerns and physical discomfort.

Varicose veins are caused when small vein valves begin to leak. The role of the veins is to return oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart. But gravity takes a toll on this process, straining the progress of blood flow from the feet and legs (which is where varicose veins most often crop up). This can cause one-way valves to work less efficiently. And, as a result, blood pools in the veins and causes them to enlarge. This gives the veins their swollen look -- and it's the deoxygenated blood that gives them their blue hue.

Because the veins' valves weaken over time, varicose veins become more common as people age. In fact, about half of all adults over age 50 experience the condition. Women, in particular, are at high risk for varicose veins. It's believed that hormonal shifts during puberty, birth control use, pregnancy and menopause are what make women more susceptible.

Genetics, being overweight and spending long amounts of time on your feet can also contribute to your risk of this vascular disorder.

Most average cases of varicose veins can make your legs ache or feel heavy. However, in rare cases of the disorder, ulcers or ruptures can occur. When a varicose vein ruptures, the rapid blood loss can be fatal. Another concern is that varicose veins tend to bleed more heavily than normal veins when damaged -- even with just a scrape or cut to the skin. If you begin bleeding heavily in the leg, call 9-1-1, and immediately elevate the area.

Laser treatment is one of the most common therapies for varicose veins. It involves cauterizing and closing the veins. While the success rate is high with this treatment, it doesn't cure weak vein valves, so it won't prevent varicose veins from reoccurring down the road.

Another popular method is sclerotherapy. With this treatment, a solution is injected into the veins, causing them to seal shut and fade. It is effective, but it can require multiple rounds for stubborn veins.

Finally, vein ligation and stripping is an option. It's a surgical procedure in which veins are tied and removed. This method is more invasive and is being used less frequently.

While medical treatments are the only thorough ways of eliminating varicose veins, there are natural therapies you can try that may improve their appearance including the following:

  • Aescin, a horse chestnut extract, is thought to help reduce vein swelling.
  • Bioflavonoids and vitamin C found in berries, fruit and ginkgo biloba are believed to strengthen blood vessels.
  • Calendula extract and vitamin E tend to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Can varicose veins be prevented? Elevating your feet whenever possible and exercising frequently help improve circulation in the legs. Research suggests that a high-fiber, low-sodium diet may lower your risk of varicose veins as well. Of course, the most common method of prevention is to wear compression hose. Compression hose help usher blood back up to the heart and lungs more efficiently, creating less work for the veins in the legs.

Keep reading for information on correcting other cosmetic issues.

More to Explore