How can varicose veins get worse?
There are a number of triggers that can make outbreaks of varicose veins particularly unpleasant and place you at risk of developing a more serious condition like deep vein thrombosis or varicose ulcers. These include:
- Liver congestion
- Hormone levels
In this blog, you will find out more about how these issues influence varicose veins and how you can deal with the problem.
If your varicose veins are causing you an extreme amount of pain and distress, you should seek immediate medical attention. However, it can still be useful to recognise certain features that might exaggerate an episode of varicose veins so that you can take action towards reducing these risks factors.
Being overweight or obese can significantly increase your chances of developing varicose veins and it can also worsen your existing symptoms. Your weight will be placing an enormous amount of pressure on your veins and your circulatory system will struggle to keep up with the increased demands of your body.
If you are obese, you are also more inclined to have high blood pressure, a condition that appears when your blood is being pumped too forcefully through your body. High blood pressure can damage the lining of the arteries and potentially rupture the blood vessels, increasing the levels of stress experienced by your veins and worsening your symptoms.
2. Liver congestion
The connection between liver congestion and varicose veins is not often apparent to sufferers of this condition. On reflection, though, it can make a lot of sense, especially when you consider the role of the liver in filtering blood, absorbing nutrients and detoxifying the body.
When the portal vein (an important blood vessel used to transport blood and nutrients to the liver) is impaired or damaged, it can result in a back-flow of blood, eventually enlarging the blood vessels further down in the stomach.
This can also lead to haemorrhoids, another form of varicose veins that can be very painful and uncomfortable. Plus, when the liver is overwhelmed, this can also cause constipation – straining too much on the loo can cause or worsen varicose veins in the rectum, and can even put you at risk of heart issues.
If you are obese or suffer from liver congestion, then you might also be at risk of being malnourished. This does not mean that you are not getting enough food, but that the food you are eating is not giving you enough nutrients.
If your body is lacking in important minerals like zinc or anti-oxidants like vitamin C, it will have an adverse effect on a range of bodily processes, from your liver function to your digestion and blood circulation. For example, if your liver becomes too toxic due to drinking too much alcohol, it can cause congestion, again leading to an onset of varicose veins.
If you are not consuming enough good nutrients and plenty of fibre, you might find yourself more vulnerable to digestive complaints like constipation which, as I've mentioned, can intensify an episode of varicose veins.
Your blood circulation is likewise dependant on a good, steady flow of nutrients to maintain its health – vitamin E in particular is important for the formation of red blood cells and can work to reduce the risk of blood clots and stagnation as it keeps the veins supple and elastic.
If you want to learn more, read my blog on the best vitamins to banish varicose veins.
4. Hormone levels
Oestrogen and progesterone are female sex hormones that can have a surprisingly powerful effect on the rest of the body.
Some sufferers of varicose veins might notice that their symptoms tend to become more intense around the time of their period, or during menopause. This is because levels of both these hormones fluctuate significantly during this time, and can even be influenced by other changes occurring in your body, such as problems with the liver.
The liver is responsible for generating hormones like oestrogen so, when liver function becomes impaired, you might find that there is too much oestrogen lingering in your system, unable to be detoxified by the liver. Oestrogen can cause the blood clotting and even weaken the walls of the veins so, when your oestrogen levels are high, it can stimulate an episode of varicose veins.
However, having too little oestrogen and progesterone can be just as detrimental. In menopause, for example, your hormone levels drop and this can sometimes weaken your valves. Some doctors have even cited a direct link between low progesterone levels and varicose veins!
The uncomfortable, and often painful, symptoms of varicose veins can sometimes limit our mobility. If your legs are throbbing and aching, the last thing you will feel like doing is enjoying a brisk walk or taking a yoga class.
Exercise is vital, though – remaining immobile or leading a sedentary lifestyle will not encourage your circulatory system and will keep your blood flow stagnant and inactive. You need to be moving around regularly, stretching your legs and partaking in gentle exercises to stimulate a healthy flow of blood around your body.
Tips to help varicose veins
When you are suffering from varicose veins, there are various things you can do to manage the problem.
Try horse chestnut – this has traditionally been used for the treatment of varicose veins.
Eat a healthy, varied diet - this ensures you are getting a range of nutrients to support the circulatory system.
Reduce sugar intake – this is pro-inflammatory so may worsen symptoms. As an alternative, snack on nutritious nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
Drink lots of water – this will prevent sluggish circulation. You should try to drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day to stay hydrated.
Try Ginkgo biloba – this natural remedy has traditionally been recommended for circulatory conditions as the plant supports healthy blood flow.
Exercise – this can help boost circulation so is very beneficial for varicose veins sufferers. Opt for really gentle activities like Pilates, walking and swimming to avoid putting your body under too much pressure.
Wear compression socks – these add pressure to the legs, stimulating blood flow and easing inflammation.
Blog originally published on 11 August 2016 (updated on 29 November 2019)