Your veins have an important job: they transport blood to and from your heart. It¡¯s a challenging job because your veins don¡¯t have a special pump to propel the blood. Instead, it has to return through your veins using either gravity or muscular pumps and valves. The valves in veins hold the blood from going in a reverse direction and enable it to move against gravity and return to the heart. Your muscles can help out, especially when you walk because they act like pumps to help return the blood. Veins vary in size from very small, like those just under the skin, to very large veins deeper in your legs, thighs and arms, and form an interconnected network, known as the circulatory system, throughout the body.
What can go wrong?
If part of the circulatory system is faulty then other veins may have to carry more blood. Veins can have incompetent valves and become larger because they carry more blood, causing a rise in their inner pressure. Veins that have poor valves or that have to carry more blood may enlarge. Varicose veins are a good example of this. Veins can start to break down in their linings and initially show more of a bluish color. This is the earliest sign of a vein problem. Eventually veins with poor integrity can start leaking and leaching out blood that can collect in a person¡¯s foot, leg and/or ankle. This is not only unsightly but may also lead to ulcers and a risk of infection.
Do you have a vein problem?
Vein problems usually show up on the thighs and legs earlier than on the arms. The veins of the legs are subject to higher pressures than the veins of the arms and will tend to break down earlier.
The earliest signs of a vein problem are areas of bluish color visible on the thighs and legs. The smallest veins may blanch when you press on them. These veins can not be easily felt. Varicose veins are larger and more twisting in their appearance. They are a sign of poor valves. They are not only unsightly but might lead to symptoms of pain, heaviness and leg cramps. Bluish color with swelling on the skin of your ankles and feet are signs of more advanced vein problems. Pain in your calf, especially if there is swelling, is a more serious deep vein problem and warrants immediate medical attention.
Hemorrhoids are also a vein problem. You can have these externally and actually feel the hemorrhoid near your rectum or have them internally in your rectum.
Helping your veins
Elevation: Elevate your legs occasionally. You can do this in a reclining chair or on a regular chair. You can raise your legs up on a table or by using a bed that is adjustable to elevate the foot of the bed. You can also do this by lying on your back and by bringing your foot up into the air. Try holding onto the back of your thigh to assist in raising your foot in the air. Be careful not to do this by sheer muscle as you can hurt your back by either raising or lowering your leg. You can also do this by lying on the floor and raising your leg in a door opening. Be careful when you are lowering your leg. Try bending at the knee when lowering your leg. Elevating your legs can be important on air and road trips longer than three hours.
Decrease your standing time: Decrease your time standing still. If you tend to stand longer than 45-60 minutes take a break and sit down and try to raise your legs. If you are in a place that you can recline, raise your feet using a higher surface.
Exercise: Aerobic forms of exercise such as walking, jogging, treadmill, aerobic classes can all help in the return of blood to your heart.
Yoga: Some of the Yoga positions help improve blood circulation. Positions that have your feet elevated in the air are best.
Supplements: Certain supplements can help the lining of your veins. These include horse chestnut, butchers broom, vitamin C, gotu kola and grape seed extract. It is usually easiest to take these in a combination supplement rather than taking these individually. When taking a vein supplement you can take one capsule two times per day. Remember not to judge your progress by evaluating your veins too quickly. Vein health takes some time to improve, sometimes months. Try a vein supplement only if you are elevating, exercising and decreasing your standing time. Keep an eye out for the earliest signs of vein problems, as this is a good time to start a supplement. A supplement can best aid in building the integrity of the vein wall lining rather than in repairing faulty valves.
When to seek medical attention
Seek medical attention when your veins hurt or if you have calf or thigh pain especially if there is swelling. You can have injection sclerosis therapy or laser therapy of unsightly veins or surgical excision of large varicose veins.