If you've had varicose veins for a long time, you’ll be familiar with the pain, the itchiness, and the swelling. Meeting with a vein specialist is the best course of action to take for treating varicose veins and to avoid developing future complications. If seeing a specialist is too time-consuming for someone with a hectic schedule, what can we do in the meantime?
Apart from encouraging everybody to live a healthy lifestyle, such as eating right, taking enough fluids, exercising and elevating the legs after a long day of standing, it is recommended to wear compression stockings during the day as a useful means to prevent the appearance of varicose veins and to avoid further complications. Varicose veins appear when your veins do not function properly, commonly found in the lower legs. Veins have one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing backward. When these valves fail to close properly, blood begins to collect in the veins rather than continuing toward the heart. The veins enlarge, creating the appearance of squiggly, bulging veins just below the surface of the skin. In some cases, people with varicose veins may just experience cosmetic concerns with the veins appearing more visible in a blue or dark purple color tone that forms a meandering bulge protruding from underneath the skin and may not feel any pain. Most individuals, however, have painful signs and symptoms which include an achy or heavy feeling in the legs; burning, throbbing, muscle cramping, and swelling in the lower legs. This problem can progress towards itching around one or more of the veins; color changes, hardening of the vein, inflammation of the skin, or skin ulcers near the ankle.
If varicose veins remain untreated, complications may occur. Some of these complications include: bleeding – varicose veins, near the surface of the skin, can easily bleed if you bump or cut the leg; blood clots – if formed in the superficial veins, it could lead to thrombophlebitis (inflammation and pain), swelling of the veins in the leg or deep vein thrombosis, which can cause more pain and swelling in the leg and may lead to severe complications such as pulmonary embolism (blood clotting in the lungs causing chest pains and sudden shortness of breath); chronic venous insufficiency – a long period of disruption in the exchange of oxygen, nutrients, and waste products in the body.
Compression sleeves and socks use a special kind of elastic hosiery. It helps prevent the occurrence of venous disorders and protects against further degradation. These specialty sleeves and socks compress the surface arteries and veins, helping the vein valves to function properly and allowing for steady blood flow to the heart without obstruction.
Before getting out of bed, it is extremely beneficial to put on compression stockings. The compression stockings will keep the valves in the right position to support healthy blood circulation in the legs during the day. It can also provide many benefits in situations that can worsen vein conditions, like prolonged sitting and standing, long travel times, working at a desk, etc.
There are two types of compression stockings, gradient and anti-embolism. Application of the anti-embolism compression stocking is performed by trained personnel, like nurses and physicians. Using a properly sized stocking is critical and is determined by first measuring the legs. Anti-embolism stockings are typically used by bedridden patients to support normal venous return and use anywhere from 8 – 18 mmHg of compression level. Gradient compression stockings are tighter around the ankles and provide gradual pressure up through the legs. The amount of pressure or compression provided by the stockings gradually decreases as you go up the leg. They can be used for all stages of chronic venous insufficiency and are medically measured to be 15 – 20 mmHg or higher in compression. The elasticity or tightness is expressed in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). There is a simple rule of thumb, if a patient is lying in bed, then use anti-embolism stockings, but if a patient is ambulatory, use gradient compression stockings.
Keep in mind that wearing compression sleeves or socks are short-term solutions. As you take off the compression stockings, you may notice that the varicose veins will continue to ache and swell up again. Proper medical treatment is a necessity in more serious cases because the human body cannot recover naturally over time from varicose veins. In fact, most of the popular home remedies don't actually cure the veins and none of them directly treat the symptoms. A person suffering from varicose veins needs to see a phlebologist, a medically qualified doctor with postgraduate training for expert diagnosis and specialized treatment to improve venous health. In order to properly diagnose symptoms, patient's medical history, physical examinations, venous imaging – particularly vascular ultrasound, and laboratory evaluations related to venous thromboembolism are required.
But if you want to have a short-term relief from the pain and swollen legs caused by varicose veins, give compression stocking a try, especially if you spend a lot of time on your feet.
Disclaimer: This article should not be construed as medical advice. Please contact a licensed physician for a proper diagnosis of your specific case.