Varicose veins are a common circulatory condition affecting the small valves in your veins. When these small valves become weakened or damaged, it can lead to a build-up of blood in your veins, causing them to become swollen and discoloured. In this blog, I talk about how this ailment can spread to your feet and what treatments work best to restore a proper flow of blood and reduce any painful or uncomfortable symptoms.
Louise Baillie S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3 @ActiveLouise Ask Louise
12 June 2020
What are varicose veins?
It is estimated that 3 out of every 10 adults will suffer from varicose veins at some point in their lives. The symptoms can vary in severity, meaning that the condition can go from being considered a 'cosmetic issue' to being thought of as a serious medical complaint.
Varicose veins occur when the small valves in your veins become damaged or weakened over time. This prevents blood from being pumped properly around the circulatory system and results in blood becoming backlogged in your veins. This causes them to bloat and discolour, giving them their swollen and distorted appearance.
The legs are the area most commonly affected by varicose veins due to a combination of gravity and their role in supporting the weight of your body.
Sometimes, though, varicose veins can spread as far as your calves, ankles and even feet.
As varicose veins in the feet are quite a common occurrence, this blog will answer the following questions:
What causes varicose veins in your feet?
How can I get rid of varicose veins on my feet?
What causes varicose veins in your feet?
When varicose veins appear in the feet, they can be very debilitating. Standing or walking tend to be particularly painful and uncomfortable because they inevitably place pressure on the affected area. However, leading a sedentary life is not recommended – in fact, it may actually contribute to the problem.
There are a number of other factors besides inactivity that can increase your chances of developing varicose veins in your feet and put you at risk of worsening your symptoms; so, let's look at what these are.
There are a variety of serious health risks associated with being obese and overweight, including heart disease and diabetes. However, the condition also increases your chances of developing varicose veins, particularly in your calves and feet.
This is logical when you think about it – the valves in these areas already have to fight against gravity to ensure a consistent circulation of blood, and the pressure of your body's weight is inescapably placed on this area. If you are obese, your weakened valves will struggle to cope with the increased demand on your circulatory system and will eventually become even weaker trying to support your increased body mass.
This process can be accelerated by high blood pressure, an extremely common condition in obesity, and one that can damage the lining of your arteries, placing yet more pressure on your circulatory system, including your veins.
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Poor nutrition and obesity are inevitably interlinked, with each complaint exacerbating the other.
If you are consuming vast quantities of processed fats, refined sugars or caffeinated beverages, this will affect all other areas of your body, from your immune system to your digestion. Poor digestion reduces your ability to absorb minerals and vitamins that your body needs to function, including your circulatory system.
You should try to increase your intake of vitamin C, which is important for connective tissue such as that found in blood vessels. Also important is vitamin E, which helps keep the artery walls supple. Fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and oily fish are good sources of these nutrients.
Pregnancy can lead to the appearance of varicose veins. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 40% of pregnant women will experience varicose veins.
In pregnancy, the valves in your veins are placed under an increased amount of strain due to the extra amounts of blood being produced in the body to support the growing foetus.
The expanding uterus itself can also place pressure on the inferior vena cava vein, which supports the blood flow from the legs and pelvis. This can cause it to become weakened and impaired. Additionally, your increased weight may place more stress on your feet, increasing the chance of varicose veins even more.
On top of this, there are also hormonal issues to consider. Your body will be manufacturing more oestrogen and progesterone at this time, which can relax the lining of the veins and make them more prone to leaking.
Stress might not seem like an obvious trigger of varicose veins, especially in the feet, but it can be another contributing factor.
When you experience an episode of stress, it will plunge your nervous system into a state of excitement and stimulate your primordial 'fight or flight' reflexes, which are designed to prioritise your survival over everything else. Your blood will be pumped more forcefully through your body, placing more strain on your blood vessels.
During bouts of stress, adrenalin and histamine are released into the body. These add to inflammatory pressures on blood vessels.
Suffering from varicose veins, particularly when they occur in your feet, can be a thoroughly unpleasant experience and is not likely to inspire you to be particularly active. However, sitting down and remaining sedentary will only impair your circulation even more. It encourages the blood in your veins to remain stagnant, worsening your existing symptoms and placing you at a greater risk of getting varicose veins in your feet.
See my tip below for more information on being more active when suffering from varicose veins!
My Self-Care Tip: Exercising with varicose veins
Find out a little more about how exercise can help varicose veins in my video.
How can I get rid of varicose veins on my feet?
Some of my top tips for dealing with varicose veins in the feet are as follows!
Stress and visible medical conditions can form a vicious cycle. Relaxation is, therefore, very important, otherwise you risk feeding the cycle, worsening your symptoms and ultimately making yourself miserable.
When you feel yourself starting to feel stressed or panicked, try to take some time out of your day-to-day life for yourself. Enjoy the pursuits that you want to enjoy, whether it be watching a cheesy film or going for a leisurely stroll down the street. You could even try out a gentle exercise regime like yoga or meditation, as both activities are excellent at teaching you useful breathing techniques that will enable you to keep calm in times of emotional distress.
If your stress symptoms are becoming particularly overwhelming, you could try a natural stress remedy such as AvenaCalm. This can work to support your nervous system and gently soothe your moods, making you feel more relaxed and in control of yourself.
2. Try Horse Chestnut
Our herbal remedies for varicose veins, Venaforce and Venagel, are made from fresh extracts of Horse Chestnut seeds. Horse Chestnut seeds have a long history of being used in the treatment of circulatory conditions like varicose veins, and they work by promoting the flow of blood, reducing any pain or inflammation, and strengthening the lining of your blood vessels.
If you are pregnant, you can use Venagel, but not Venaforce, as is not suitable in pregnancy. Both treatments are not advisable if you suffer from serious complications like varicose ulcers.
There is really no understating how important it is to have a healthy and well-balanced diet. It can help to reduce your chances of becoming obese, it supports your liver function and aids your immune and circulatory systems.
On the other hand, following a diet that is rich in refined sugars, caffeine and processed fats can do a lot of damage to your body, flooding it with inflammatory chemicals and even making you more prone to bouts of stress and digestive complaints. Instead, you should try to avoid these types of food, maybe only having the odd bar of chocolate or take-away as the occasional treat.
Try to choose fibrous foods that contain a lot of B vitamins, as these can improve the health of your digestive system and prevent you from experiencing constipation, which can place pressure on your liver and blood vessels.
Aim to eat more fruit and vegetables like pineapples, oranges, ginger, onions or kale as these are abundant in antioxidant vitamins like vitamin C, E and K, which can aid your circulatory system and strengthen the lining of your blood vessels.
If you feel you're not getting enough vitamin C into your diet, then you could try our supplement Nature-C which is organic and made from natural fruit extracts. If you want to support your liver function, try Milk Thistle Complex.
4. Elevate your legs
A good way of supporting drainage of blood from the legs is to elevate your legs above the level of your heart. You can do this by lying down and resting your feet against a wall, or placing your legs on a stack of cushions. Putting your feet up on a pillow when lying in bed can also help.
Gravity should enable the movement of stagnant blood and encourage your veins to start moving the blood to other areas of the body, hopefully reducing your symptoms and preventing varicose veins from spreading to your ankles and feet.
When you suffer from varicose veins, exercising can feel like a bush tucker trial, especially if the veins have started to appear on your feet. Walking can be uncomfortable, painful and irritating; however, it is necessary if you want to restore proper flow of blood in your veins.
The key is to exercise sensibly – don't go on 10-mile bike rides or feel the need to start an intense weight session at your nearest gym. Instead, try taking brisk walks or even start yoga classes, as both forms of exercise are gentle and should encourage you to stretch your muscles and get your heart pumping.
Exercise can also be of benefit if you are obese, as it should help you to shed the extra weight you are carrying, relieving the pressure on the veins in your legs and feet.
If varicose veins have manifested in your feet, you could try massaging them very gently with soothing oils like yarrow, cypress, or rose, in a base oil such as sweet almond. These substances can be very comforting for your emotional wellbeing and can work to support your blood circulation, as well as tightening your blood vessels and reducing inflammation.
You can massage these oils directly into your skin or even add them to a basin filled with warm water for a gentle foot bath. Your local health food shop should stock a variety of oils.
7. Use compression stockings
Compression stockings are very useful when it comes to treating varicose veins, especially if they have spread to your feet and ankles. They gently add pressure on the veins in your legs, supporting the flow of blood and reducing any swelling.
You should wear the stockings throughout the day, whilst you are being active or when you come home from work and want to sit down. Compression stockings are also useful to have on you if you plan on venturing abroad, as they can relieve some of the negative side-effects of flying with varicose veins.
Originally published 12 August 2016 (updated 12 June 2020)