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Varicose veins: Go with the flow


Recurring long hauls can impact your health in a number of ways. Certainly, sitting behind the wheel for long periods of time can decrease the blood circulation in your legs and feet, which may lead to varicose veins.

Under ideal conditions, your circulatory system must coordinate a number of actions to maintain efficient blood flow, especially while moving blood from your feet back up to your body. Working against gravity, the muscles in your lower legs contract in a pump-like action to push blood upwards. Tiny valves inside your veins open to allow this upwards blood flow and then close to prevent this blood from flowing back down after each muscular contraction. During this process, the flexible walls of your veins expand and contract to manage temporary changes in blood volume.

When this system loses efficiency and the veins are unable to effectively transport blood back to the heart, the veins may become varicose and bulge and twist, turn dark purple or blue, and extend beyond the normal skin surface. A less severe version of varicose veins, spider veins – thin red or blue spidery veins just below the skin’s surface – may be your first indicator of a developing circulatory problem. Although any vein can be come varicose, legs and feet are most commonly affected.

A number of factors increase your risk, including aging, gender, heredity and obesity. The normal wear-and-tear of aging naturally reduces the effectiveness of your veins’ valves and overall circulation. Gender is also a factor. Women are more prone to varicose veins because hormonal fluctuations appear to relax vein walls, reducing their ability to extend and contract.

Heredity plays a part, too. If a close family member had varicose veins, your risk is much higher. Excess weight can also contribute, as more pressure is required to distribute blood throughout a larger body.

Varicose veins are not a big problem for most people. Often they are just considered an unsightly, painless inconvenience. However, for others, varicose veins can trigger painful throbbing, and/or burning muscle cramps in the lower legs; a heavy, dull ache in the legs, or itching in the vein(s). This pain usually increases with long periods of sitting or standing.

On very rare occasions, varicose veins may lead to these two potentially serious complications: ulcers and blood clots.

People who have had varicose veins for a long period of time may develop extremely painful ulcers on the skin near the varicose veins, because of a chronic fluid build-up there.

These ulcers can become quite serious and difficult to treat, so if you have chronic varicose veins monitor the condition of the skin on and around your ankles. If you notice any slight spots of discolouration, see your doctor immediately. This may be the first sign an ulcer is developing.

Another serious condition related to varicose veins is blood clotting. When veins deep within the legs become enlarged, pooled blood could clot and block a blood vessel. If this happens, the leg with the clot will suddenly swell considerably.

Since this situation could lead to a potentially life-threatening condition, seek medical attention immediately, if your leg ever swells suddenly. If a blood clot develops in your leg (thrombophlebitis), the clot could dislodge and travel through your circulatory system and end up blocking blood-flow to a vital organ, causing irreversible damage.

If you end up developing varicose veins, there are many treatment options to consider.

Proactively, you could manage your condition through exercising, maintaining an appropriate weight, wearing clothes that promote good circulation, elevating your legs when the condition is painful, and avoiding long periods of sitting or standing, as possible.

However, as a truck driver spending many stationary hours sitting behind the wheel every day, you could still improve your lower body circulation by consciously and regularly shifting leg and foot positions and by keeping your blood flowing by repeating a set of twenty foot stretching exercises, alternating between pointing your heal and toe.

To relieve the throbbing of slightly more serious varicose veins, use compression stockings.

If you put on compression stockings at the beginning of the day before getting up, you prevent blood from pooling in your lower leg. As you wear them throughout the day, they continually squeeze your legs and help your veins and leg muscles move blood upwards more efficiently.

When buying compression stockings, read the label for the right size and fit so you maintain an appropriate blood flow volume.

Medical intervention may be required for more severe cases. Sclerotherapy, laser treatment or radio frequency may be considered to close off the veins. Phlebectomy, or stab avulsion, ligation and stripping may be used to remove them.

The way to avoid the complications of varicose veins is through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. If they still develop, go with the flow.

***

Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at karen_bowen@yahoo.com.


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