Summer’s here! Time to unpack those floaty skirts and shorts. It’s great news for sunlovers, but not for the eight million South Africans, predominantly women, who are plagued with varicose veins, those winding, twisted purple clusters that make legs achy, swollen, tired and unsightly.
What are varicose veins?
There are two kinds of veins in your legs. Superficial veins, which lie close to your skin, and deep veins, which lead via groups of muscles to the vena cava, your body’s largest vein, and your heart. The two systems are connected, but varicose veins occur in the superficial vein structure.
What causes varicose veins?
Blood in your leg veins needs to work against gravity to return to your heart – a process that’s helped by your leg muscles, which squeeze the veins, and the one-way valves that allow blood to pass in the right direction. The process of sending blood back to the heart is called the venous pump.
Walking and moving around helps blood to move, but when you sit or stand for a long time, blood pools in your leg veins, increasing the pressure within them. Veins may withstand occasional bouts of inactivity, but in some people (the condition often runs in families), the veins stretch and their walls become weakened, damaging the vein valves. The result? Varicose veins or spider veins.
The likelihood of varicose veins increases with age and weight. Veins that enlarge during pregnancy tend to improve afterwards. Women are also vulnerable during puberty and menopause, or if using birth control pills or other drugs containing oestrogen and progesterone.
Don’t ignore varicose veins – they’ll probably worsen over time, causing aching and skin changes like rashes, redness, phlebitis (inflammation of the veins), skin ulcers and blood clots.