Your veins carry blood back to your heart and lungs, where the blood can pick up oxygen and nutrients before returning to the rest of your body. Unlike your arteries, the veins have fairly thin walls and a series of valves to keep blood flowing in the proper direction. Because the vein walls are so thin, factors like aging and pregnancy can actually weaken and damage your veins.
How your veins change
As you age, all of the blood vessels in your body tend to become less flexible and less elastic. In the veins, this could mean that the walls expand, but don’t return to their natural shape.
With pregnancy, the volume of blood that flows through your veins increases, which puts more stress on the veins. As with aging, this can cause the veins to expand and make them unable to return to their natural shape.
What happens when veins change
When the veins expand, or distend, the expansion can prevent the valves from closing properly. As a result, blood that would normally flow forward ends up flowing backward through the open valve.
When the blood flows backward, it tends to collect at the lowest point in your body, which can cause swelling in your lower legs and ankles.
Blood backflow can also cause the veins to remain expanded, resulting in varicose and spider veins.
Ways to prevent venous changes
There are several factors that can affect the way your veins behave during pregnancy or as you age. Heredity is a big factor, and you are more likely to develop varicose veins if other people in your family have them. However, there are other factors that can help you maintain the integrity of your veins and prevent, or reduce the changes that occur with pregnancy and age.
A vein healthy diet
One of the best things you can do for your veins is moderate your sodium intake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. If you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes, you should aim for consuming no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
The main issue with sodium is that it increases your blood volume because you need to retain water, which can put more stress on your veins.
In addition to monitoring your sodium intake, you should also be sure to remain properly hydrated. Guidelines vary as to how much water you should consume per day, but a popular recommendation is that you drink eight eight-ounce glasses per day. That’s equal to 64 ounces, or four 16-ounce bottles of water.
Vitamins C, E and K all contribute to vein health, and these vitamins can be found in fruits and vegetables, as well as seeds and nuts. Making sure you are getting enough of these vitamins can improve and maintain your vein health.
Exercise for vein health
In addition to the valves inside the vein walls, your veins also rely on your muscles to help push blood through your body. Being sedentary can actually weaken your veins. A few minutes of exercise per day can help improve blood flow, and strengthen your veins.
The President’s Council on Fitness recommends you get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. That translates to roughly 30 minutes per day, five days a week. Aerobic activity is described as sustained physical effort, such as running, walking, or swimming. Moderate activity is described as intense enough that you can’t say more than five words in a row during the activity, but you aren’t gasping for breath.
The President’s Council also recommends you do strength exercises, like lifting weights, and stretching exercises.
Pregnant women should consult their physicians before engaging in a new exercise program.
Treating your current vein issues
If you notice that you are currently developing vein issues, you can still take steps to prevent further problems, and even reverse your current problems.
In addition to making changes in your diet and exercise, you can wear special clothing called compression garments. These garments (usually special stockings or socks) press against your veins to help keep blood flowing in the right direction.
If you have serious vein issues, you can seek medical treatments like sclerotherapy, laser treatments or surgery.
- Sclerotherapy involves injection of a substance into the vein which hardens and closes off the vein so that blood can no longer flow through it. It doesn’t correct the issues causing the vein damage, but it does remove the damaged vein from the equation.
- Laser treatments use laser light and essentially do the same thing as sclerotherapy.
- Surgery either removes the damaged veins, or inserts a device to block off the vein.