First off, let me start by saying that above photo isn’t me. Thank goodness, because ouch/ugh/ick. But a week ago I spent the better part of 15 minutes trying rub off this one inch purple squiggly line on the inside of my left calf. Obvs I had accidentally drawn on myself with a ball point pen. A little soap and water will take care of it. Um, nope. Wise up, Cheryl. It’s a spider vein. Your very first. Let’s throw a pity party, shall we? But I’ll be wearing my wide-legged pants jumpsuit to it, thank you.
I cringe every time a woman gasps that she’s found her first gray hair at 37. I’ve been plagued with gray hair since I was 18, so I roll my eyes at her “misfortune.” I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes at me right now because about 50 to 55 percent of women in the U.S. suffer from some type of vein problem, according to U.S. Department of Health.
There are two kinds: varicose veins, those gross (and usually painful) enlarged veins that can look like blue or red twisted cords, and their smaller sisters, spiders (shown above). They’re both often found on the thighs, backs of the calves, or the inside of the leg. Excellent places for when you’re trying to look stylish in a mini, right?
The top three causes of varicose veins are family history, being a female (that pesky progesterone is a pain in the legs), and leading a sedentary lifestyle; in that order. But with a few tips and top truths by Dr. Judith Hondo and Dr. Elizabeth Foley from The Vein and Aesthetic Center of Boston, you can get a hold on this unsightly problem and do your best to prevent them. Since both women started out as OB/GYNs, they know all about veins and motherhood…a major issue for pregnant women.
Tip #1: Keep moving. Walking and cycling are particularly good exercises for patients with spider or varicose veins. The repetitive contraction of the calf muscle (known as the calf muscle pump) continuously pumps the blood out of these veins preventing the pressure that can lead to more spider or varicose veins.
Tip #2: People prone to vein problems or with a family history of varicose veins can proactively protect their legs by wearing compression hose during cooler weather. This will aid in maintaining healthy veins.
Tip #3: Diet alone hasn’t been directly linked to varicose or spider veins, but eating foods rich in natural antioxidants helps to maintain good cellular health that can directly can affect the integrity of our tissues. Examples include blueberries, walnuts and kidney beans.
Tip #4: Maintaining a healthy weight keeps unnecessary pressure off of the legs and therefore the leg veins.
Tip #5: Taking NSAIDs such as Ibuprofen can help with the pain of varicose veins, while horse chestnut seed extract may reduce aching and swelling.
Tip #6: Myth–Crossing your legs causes varicose veins. (Note: Consider me shocked that there are no studies that have proven this.) While some have speculated that crossing your legs may cause increased pressure in the veins below the knee, this has never been verified by any scientific study.
Tip #7: High heels limit complete flexion and extension of the calf muscle and therefore impede the effectiveness of the calf muscle pump. So take a break from those stilettos, ladies, and wear smaller heels (hello kitten) to work the calf muscle to help move blood through the veins.
Tip #8: Don’t stand or sit for long periods of time. If you must stand for a long time, shift your weight from one leg to the other every few minutes. If you must sit for long periods of time, stand up and move around or take a short walk every 30 minutes.
Of course, not only are they unsightly but vein problems could be symptoms of other health issues. There are key signs/symptoms the Docs warn you should get checked out: leg pain or discomfort, swollen legs or ankles, tired or heavy legs, discoloration and scarring of skin on legs, and restless legs or night cramps.
Cheryl Fenton is a Boston-based freelance writer, who writes beauty, fashion and fitness for Boston Common, Stuff and Glamour magazines.
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