Varicose veins are veins that have become enlarged and twisted. The term commonly refers to the veins on the leg, although varicose veins can occur elsewhere.
Veins have pairs of leaflet valves to prevent blood from flowing backwards. Leg muscles pump the veins to return blood to the heart, against the effects of gravity. When veins become varicose, the leaflets of the valves no longer meet properly, and the valves do not work. This allows blood to flow backwards and they enlarge even more. Varicose veins are most common in the superficial veins of the legs, which are subject to high pressure when standing. Besides being a cosmetic problem, varicose veins can be painful, especially when standing. Severe long-standing varicose veins can lead to leg swelling, venous eczema, skin thickening and ulceration. Although life-threatening complications are uncommon, varicose veins may be confused with deep vein thrombosis, which may be life-threatening.
Varicose veins may not cause any pain. Signs you may have with varicose veins include:
- Veins that are dark purple or blue in color
- Veins that appear twisted and bulging; often like cords on your legs
When painful signs and symptoms occur, they may include:
- An achy or heavy feeling in your legs
- Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in your lower legs
- Worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long time
- Itching around one or more of your veins
- Bleeding from varicose veins
- A painful cord in the vein with red discoloration of the skin
- Color changes, hardening of the vein, inflammation of the skin or skin ulcers near your ankle, which can mean you have a serious form of vascular disease that requires medical attention
Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but they’re smaller. Spider veins are found closer to the skin’s surface and are often red or blue.
They occur on the legs, but can also be found on the face. Spider veins vary in size and often look like a spider’s web.
10 Ways To Treat Varicose Veins With Effective Home Remedies
1. Gentle massage
Blood pooling in the veins is one major problem that exacerbates varicose veins. It causes the lax walls of the veins to expand and get twisted, impeding the blood flow further. Formation of blood clots is another risk. It always helps to keep the legs at a slightly elevated position while sitting and lying down to allow the venous blood to flow towards the heart. But massage is a more active way to increase blood circulation, although it should be administered very gently in people with varicose veins.
Massaging the legs with gentle upward strokes can smoothen out the twisted veins and accelerate the blood flow. Never use pressure directly on the bulging veins. Use olive oil or coconut oil for lubrication. You can add a few drops of the essential oils of peppermint or wintergreen for a soothing effect.
2. Dietary support
Research indicates that an increase in homocysteine levels in the blood can damage the lining of the blood vessels and increase the risk of thrombosis and varicose veins. Deficiency of B-complex vitamins, B6 (Pyridoxine), B9 (Folic acid) and B12 (Cobalamin) in particular, is known to elevate homocysteine levels. Alcohol consumption also has a similar effect.
All vitamins should ideally be supplied to the body through food; hence, foods rich in B6, folate, and B12 can benefit people with varicose veins. Tuna, salmon, shrimp, chicken, turkey, and egg are excellent sources of these vitamins. Sweet potatoes, potatoes, sunflower seeds, avocados, bananas, broccoli, lentils, and lima beans are also good vegan sources.
Including anti-inflammatory foods in your diet will help reduce pain and swelling. They include oily fish, leafy vegetables, beets, tomatoes, nuts and whole grains, ginger and turmeric, garlic and onions, berries and cherries.
3. Increasing activity
The heart pumps blood into the arteries, but its return to the heart from the legs is aided by the movement of the calf muscles. That is why sedentary lifestyles are bad for varicose veins. When you have this condition, standing and sitting for extended periods should be avoided. Walking is a good activity since it boosts blood circulation, even though the veins in the legs have to carry the blood upwards against gravity.
If you have a desk job, it helps to take frequent breaks to stretch your legs and move around a bit. Place your legs on a stool at a comfortable height and move your ankles in a circular motion and up and down every now and then. This aids blood circulation.
If you have to be on your feet most of the time, keep moving, frequently shifting the weight from one leg to the other. Another exercise to boost circulation is to lift yourself on the balls of the feet repeatedly. Swimming is an excellent workout for the legs because the calf muscles can pump the blood towards the heart without having to work against gravity.
4. Grape seed extract
The tiny seeds inside grapes contain antioxidant substances, including several types of flavonoids, linoleic acid and vitamin E. Oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) are another powerful set of antioxidants with well known vasoprotective properties. They prevent free radical damage to the walls of the blood vessels. They also promote the formation of collagen, a protein that helps maintain the elasticity of connective tissues and strengthen the walls of the blood vessels. It prevents leakage of fluid from the veins and resultant swelling of the legs.
You can take powdered grape seeds or use commercially available grape seed extracts as long as their OPC content is 95% or more. Grape seed oil is also rich in these proanthocyanidins, and can be taken orally or used topically to relieve pain and inflammation and to strengthen the veins.
5. Cayenne pepper
Cayenne pepper is rich in vitamin C and flavonoids. They protect the walls of the blood vessels from free radical damage and promote collagen formation to keep them healthy and elastic. But the most potent substance in cayenne pepper is capsaicin which has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and blood thinning properties.
Cayenne pepper powder can be orally taken to reduce the pain and inflammation due to varicose veins. It can prevent blood clots and ulcers. Start with smaller doses of half a teaspoon cayenne pepper powder in a cup of water and gradually increase it up to 1 tablespoon. Even mere topical application of capsaicin or cayenne pepper extract can increase blood circulation and bring relief to tired and sore legs.
6. Pine bark extract
Pine bark extract has been studied extensively, especially the proprietary product Pycnogenol® extracted from the bark of French maritime pine. It contains many phenolic acids, flavonoids, and proanthocyanidins that bestow a number of beneficial effects, including visible reduction of varicose veins and associated inflammation.
Oral intake of pine bark extract has been shown to strengthen the walls of the blood vessels and restore elasticity by binding with the structural protein collagen. By reducing blood pressure and improving blood circulation, pine bark extract relieves many symptoms of varicose veins such as leg cramps and pain on standing for long periods.
7. Apple cider vinegar
This is one of the easiest, yet effective remedies for varicose veins. Apple cider vinegar has astringent properties which help shrink swollen veins and restore their plasticity.
You can use apple cider vinegar both externally and internally. For spot application, just dip a wash cloth in apple cider vinegar diluted with equal amount of water and place it over the swollen veins. Its drying effect reduces swelling and relieves pain.
When taken internally, it has a detoxifying effect that helps purify the blood and clean out the blood vessels, increasing circulation. You can add 2 tablespoons of vinegar to a cup of water and drink it with or without adding raw honey.
8. Witch hazel
This Native American herbal remedy has been helpful to many people with varicose veins. The tannins in the extract give it excellent astringent property, which helps in constricting the distended veins and restoring their natural elastic nature. Witch hazel has excellent anti-inflammatory properties too.
Although some herbalists recommend oral intake, using witch hazel infusion as a warm compress is sufficient to relieve pain and swelling resulting from congestion in the varicose veins. Besides reducing the edema, it can relieve itching and pain.
Treating Varicose Veins with Essential Oils
Essential oils are concentrates of the active ingredients found in medicinal plants. Although more expensive than aqueous extracts and tinctures, it is easy to carry around and use in any situation. A little goes a long way, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in a few essential oils that can bring relief from chronic problems like varicose veins.
9. Chamomile oil
Chamomile is soothing and relieves the heaviness and discomfort resulting from throbbing veins, especially after you have been on your feet for some time. Mix chamomile oil with some organic coconut oil and rub your legs before bed.
10. More Essential Oils That Work:
Lavender and rosemary essential oils have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Cypress oil constricts blood vessels and tightens tissues, promoting the upward flow of blood in the veins. The essential oils of juniper berry and pine also offer similar benefits.
To make a warm compress, dip a washcloth in warm water to which 5-6 drops of the above essential oils are added. Place it on the affected area for relief. You can add a few drops in with your massage oil and bathwater too.
The pain, swelling, and itching of varicose veins can definitely be managed with a combination of diet, exercise, and herbal remedies. These easy, inexpensive and natural remedies can relieve symptoms and even arrest the progress of the condition. Before making a decision to try something as drastic as surgery, talk to your medical professional about these natural alternatives.