What and Why?
Blood from your legs has to climb about a metre back to your heart to keep in circulation. If gravity were the only force involved, this could not be done without intolerable pressure in your feet. So the journey is designed in stages between valves that work like the lock gates on a canal. Your leg muscles pump your blood uphill while you move about in the ordinary way; when they relax the valves keep the blood at the height it has gained, waiting to be pumped up the next stage by different muscles. Only in your abdomen, above the top-most valve, do the ordinary pressure rules come back into operation.
Pressure cannot burst lock gates because they are fixed to rigid canal walls. Your veins, however, are elastic, so the valves in them are much more easily overcome. Their gates work well as long as they meet easily across the vein’s diameter; if it swells fractionally too far they fail completely.
The pressure they let through stretches even more the vein below, so that the next valve down is challenged in its turn. This domino effect can operate whenever the pressure in your abdomen keeps high enough to over-stretch the top valve in your legs, and only has a chance to recover when you switch gravity off by lying down.
Your main leg veins are buried deep inside your muscles where they are pumped most effectively. The smaller low pressure veins on the inside surface of your legs drain into these unseen deeper ones at intervals, through short connections protected by yet more valves. When these fail, the surface veins swell and stretch under pressure into the ugly contortions called varicose veins.
It is not stretching but stagnation of blood that makes them ache and may eventually cause eczema or ulceration by starving the skin nearby of air and food and hindering excretion of its wastes.
Straining because of constipation causes both this and piles. The weight of a full congested colon or pregnant womb hinders your chances of recovery between pressure bouts. Steroid hormones in pregnancy, medication or contraceptive pills make veins baggy and vulnerable. So do the heavy burdens of waste acids in your blood after a rich meat meal. Standing about in very warm clothing, straining to lift and walking little, is the worst occupation.
What can I do?
Advice to maintain and maximise your health
1. Avoid prolonged hot baths unless you are prepared to finish by splashing your legs generously with cold water. To shower is preferable, finishing on cold for 30 seconds, attending especially to the insides of your legs. You will see the veins contract visibly with this treatment. Do this before going to bed. You can repeat the cold spray whenever your legs feel tired, tight, heavy or swollen.
2. Elevate your legs in bed. Block up the foot of your bed 10 - 15cm. This dramatically reduces the night-time pressure of blood in your veins and gives them a chance to contract to a normal size.
3. Keep your diet healthy and simple, seldom indulging in rich meaty food.
4. Supplement this with Rutin 50-100mg after three meals daily with food-state Vitamin C 250mg and Vitamin E 200IU each time.
5. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) ointment 5-10% is often very comforting, especially if varicose veins leak or bruise.
6. Firm support from appropriate surgical stockings is appropriate to both sexes; your doctor can prescribe them, but at a higher prescription charge.
7. Exercise regularly, especially walking, swimming or cycling. If you sit for long put your feet well up, at least level with your hips. Avoid crossing your legs.
8. Avoid straining. Notice how you lift, and how easily your bowel empties. Correct any hint of straining by correcting your posture or dealing with constipation respectively.
9. If you use the contraceptive pill consider changing your method.
10. In pregnancy start these precautions against varicose veins early.