Healthy-looking legs have long been desired by people, but for the wrong reasons. Long, sexy legs make heads turn—and varicose veins are the devil’s curse. So what do we do? We strip our leg veins; we bind them up; we inject them with chemicals to make them go away.
While there is nothing wrong with not wanting to have leg veins, we should realize that we should be taking care of them instead of hiding them. Our leg veins channel back the flood that flows to our feet back to the heart and lungs for nourishing oxygen. And if they aren’t taken well cared for, they can strike back with a vengeance. In fact, neglected veins can kill you.
Running through your veins
Veins are blood vessels that return blood to the heart. So all body parts are connected to the heart via the veins. Most veins have it quite easy. The pressure within veins are much lower than the pressure arteries (blood vessels from the heart) have to withstand.
But the veins in your legs have it a bit harder. To be able to return blood to the heart, your veins have to go against the force of gravity. The pull of gravity on the blood increases the pressure of blood within the leg veins and its walls. This also makes the flow of blood slower.
Now, your legs have two sets of veins. Those near the surface of the skin are called superficial leg veins, and they are thinner and have less pressure within them. However, deep within the muscles of your legs lie the larger deep veins. When these deep veins develop blood clots, you have a potentially deadly condition called deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.
Are you at risk?
Some people are more likely to develop DVT. These include people who are older, or those with diseases that can make blood clot faster, such as diabetes or cancer. Surgery to the legs can also increase your risk, because when you are unable to move your legs, blood flow becomes more sluggish.
Killer in the sky
The development of DVTs is closely linked with air travel, especially when travelling by economy class. The prolonged sitting prevents you from moving around, which makes blood flow sluggish. Sitting in this cramped position also forces you to bend your legs and the veins within, which can also trigger blood clot formation. The low oxygen in the cabin, the dry air, and the low cabin pressure also has a dehydrating effect on the blood, which makes blood thicker and more prone to clots. This can be aggravated by taking alcoholic drinks inflight.
Vain for healthy veins
Regardless of your risk, there are ways to keep your leg veins healthy and less prone to DVT. Here are some measures you can take:
· Exercise regularly. Leg movement helps pump the blood back to the heart more effectively. Good circulation lessens the risk of blood clot formation. This is the most important thing you can do to prevent DVT.
· Do not smoke cigarettes. Cigarette smoke damages the lining of your blood vessels, which increases the risk of DVT as well as heart attack or stroke.
· Keep hydrated. This will keep your blood very fluid. If your urine already has a yellowish tint, it’s time to drink a glass.
· Avoid standing for extended periods of time. Instead of standing still, walk around.
· Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes, which puts extra strain on your legs. Wear flats as often as possible.
· When lying down, raise your legs a few inches above the level of your heart. You can do this by propping them up on pillows.
· Avoid crossing your legs, which pinches the blood vessels.
· Try to keep a healthy weight.
· Keep your blood pressure low. This will protect the walls of your blood vessels from damage. This may mean eating a low-salt, high-potassium diet. If you have hypertension, be sure to take your maintenance medications.
· If you have diabetes, make sure that your blood sugar is well controlled. Take your medications diligently. Have your blood sugar levels checked regularly.
· Eat foods rich in flavonoids, which are protective nutrients that keep leg veins firm and pliable. These include grapes and wine (in moderation), parsley, blueberries, black tea, citrus fruits, cocoa, and peanuts (too bad most airlines don’t serve peanuts anymore).
· If you have swollen legs, support stockings may help relieve the swelling.
Lastly, if you are at high risk of developing DVT, your doctor can prescribe some medications that can lessen the tendency of your blood to clot. So if you scored 3 or more points on our quiz, schedule an appointment today. It could save you from killer veins.