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Suffering from varicose veins?

Varicose veins, a condition that leaves many with dysfunctional veins isn’t just common among older people. Many youngsters are battling it as well

health and fitness Updated: Feb 25, 2010 20:46 IST
Aalap Deboor
Aalap Deboor
Hindustan Times

In class 10, Anita Subramanian, now 23, and an assistant director with a TV production house, discovered that the veins in her leg were sticking out rather unusually, making her leg appear green. This disturbed her, but her mom wasn’t surprised. She knew that her daughter was showing symptoms of a medical condition that her father too suffered from, a disorder of the veins that passes on with heredity. On a later visit to the doctor to treat a fracture, he confirmed that her veins had become varicose.

What are varicose veins?

Simply speaking, the valves in Subramanian’s veins had failed, making it difficult for blood from the legs to be pumped back to the heart. As a result, the veins had dilated and become tortuous. With enlarged veins, the power to return blood had reduced, and there were chances that the blood could flow back into the leg, enlarging it and forming pools inside. “I was only 15. But it made things easier for me that my family knew that I could get the condition,” she says.

But besides being passed on genetically, varicose veins are also seen in overweight and ageing people, pregnant women, and those whose jobs involve standing throughout the day. Initial symptoms include discolouration of the skin around the ankle and eczema, which eventually lead to constant itching and ulcers. If left untreated for long, the affected veins can burst open and cause severe bleeding.

One of the first things Subramanian was told by her doctor was to avoid lifting heavy weights. She’s also advised against walking long distances or sitting cross-legged. “My doctor has given me a pair of stockings for when the pain suddenly becomes unbearable, and taught me simple physiotherapy exercises such as bending the knees and rotating the ankles to prevent the swelling,” she says.

Injury protection

What concerns Subramanian most is that she has frequently injured her leg at the right knee and left ankle, smack at the spots where her veins are now varicose. She carries a knee pad and ankle plaster with her just in case she has a fall and hurts herself. The pad and plaster support the weak joints and help increase circulation. “Sometimes I lose balance when I get up after being seated for a while. It’s almost like my legs are numb and can’t hold me up any more,” Subramanian says. On some days, the veins in her feet jut out at awkward positions. “The veins become so visible, I can almost hold them between my fingers,” she says.

Vascular surgeon Dr Pankaj Patel suggests that people suffering from varicose veins exercise their calf muscles, lose weight and drink lots of water. “The calf muscles are your second heart. Exercising them for sometime by way of brisk walking or climbing the stairs will keep the feet healthy,” he says. “And if you have a family history of varicose veins, start wearing stockings pre-emptively and exercise right,” he adds.

In case the condition grows worse, there two common forms of treatment — endovenous laser and surgery. Patients also opt for sclerotherapy, in which a fluid is injected in the vein to make it shrink. But Patel says that laser combined with surgery works best.

Subramanian might not require to undergo surgery at this stage. “Suffering from varicose veins is like suffering from diabetes; once you know you have it, you do small things to keep it in check,” she says. To hold over surgery or any complication, Subramanian eats in moderation, wears footwear with soft padding and neither sits nor stands for long. “At the movies, I walk around a little during the interval and at work, I sit down for a while immediately after I’ve climbed a flight of stairs,” she says.

The condition has never prevented her from doing anything she wanted to. “I wear skirts even though my friends tease me about it, and I don’t need to wear heels since I stand six feet tall already. You’re just going to give up living if you care about every little thing people say,” she says.