Elongated, dilated, tortuous superficial veins whose valves are congenitally absent or scant or have become incompetent; this condition occurs usually in the legs.
This is a common problem effecting between 10-20% of the population, with increasing incidence with age, most common above 50 years. It is 4 times more common in women than men. The core problem is that some degree of reversal of blood flow in the veins of the legs occurs, because of valve incompetency. This causes dilation of the veins and loss of tissue tone. The abnormal swelling of veins in the legs is a symptom of a generally poor circulatory system, with a loss of elasticity in the walls of the veins and particularly in their valves. When they are functioning normally, these valves prevent blood from flowing back away from the heart, but if their efficiency decreases some blood may stagnate in the vein, which then becomes swollen and twisted, causing aching and abnormal fatigue of the legs. A number of factors can be identified that fit into two groups:
1. Support of the walls of the veins:
2. Increased resistance to the free flow of blood back into the trunk:
- heredity - about 40% of cases have a family history of varicosity.
- obesity - the fatty tissue that builds up in the legs provides inadequate support and leads to loss of tone.
- age - the aging process leads to degenerative changes in the supporting connective tissue, compounded by decreased muscular activity.
- posture - occupations that involve prolonged standing or sitting increase the chances for this problem to develop. This is due to a combination of the pull of gravity and not enough muscular activity in the thighs.
- pregnancy - whilst obviously not a disease, the growing baby will act as a obstacle to venous return.
- thrombosis - blockage within the vessels themselves.
- tumors - for example uterine fibroids or ovarian problems can become obstructive
- fashion - constriction caused by tight clothing will weaken the tissue.
Actions indicated for the processes behind this disease
Vascular tonics will help the tissues involved regain tone and strength. The bio-flavonoid and flavonoid rich herbs are especially useful here, although it is not usually a quick process.
Circulatory stimulants help the process of venous return into the trunk of the body.
Astringents can help the work of the vascular tonics. The astringency is best applied externally.
Anti-inflammatories will ease the localized inflammation and ease discomfort.
Emollient/Demulcents used externally will lessen localized discomfort.
The focus of tonic support should be on the cardiovascular system but beyond that a range of factors can be addresses depending upon the individuals situation. Consider musculo/skeletal and connective tissue tonics if the varicosity is part of a picture with rheumatic problems. If pregnancy is involved then the appropriate uterine tonic would be indicated. Etc. Etc..
Flavonoid rich plants have a major role to play in toning up these vessels. Traditionally, in Europe, Horse Chestnut has been considered an effective specific.
One possible prescription:
A Lotion for external use:
- Prickly Ash
- Horsechestnut equal parts to 5 ml taken 3 times a day
This supplies the range of actions needed to help circulation and return tissue tone.
- distilled Witch Hazel 80 ml
- Horsechestnut tincture 10 ml
- Comfrey tincture 10 ml
- Total 100 ml
- Apply liberally as needed to ease irritation and discomfort
- (rose water may be added to the lotion for cosmetic reasons)
Broader Context of Treatment
- Circulatory Stimulant (Prickly Ash, Ginkgo)
- Vascular Tonics (Hawthorn, Horsechestnut, Yarrow)
- Astringents (Yarrow, Witch Hazel)
- Emollient/Demulcents (Comfrey)
- Vulneraries (Comfrey)
- Anti-inflammatories (Horsechestnut)
Life-style factors are very important in the long-term treatment of this sometimes intransigent condition. Diet is as important here as for the rest of the cardiovascular system. Similar guidelines apply for varicosity as for pathologies already described. The main insight is the avoidance of postures or situations that aggravate the resistance to easy venous return from the legs. Anything that counteracts the effects of gravity will be helpful.
Resting with the legs higher than the head for at least 10 minutes every day will help both long-term and also decrease any immediate discomfort. This maybe achieved through the inverted postures of yoga, a slant-board, or simply lying on the floor with the legs and feet supported by a chair. The foot of the bed can be elevated between 6-12 inches, thus facilitating drainage at night. Gentle exercise is helpful. Walking, and gentle stretching exercises are suitable, but jogging, skipping, aerobics and other exercises which involve repeated impact can do more harm than good. However, such exercise would be so uncomfortable for anybody with varicose veins that they would be unlikely to try it for more than a very short time.
Aroma therapy can help improve the general tone of the veins when used in abroad holistic context. Cypress oil has a good reputation for strengthening the veins in the legs. It can be used as a bath oil and applied very gently over the area of the affected veins. Massage can be used above the affected area of the vein but must never be used below the varicosity, as this will increase the pressure in the vein. Cypress oil can either be blended in a carrier oil at 3% or made up in a cream.