Do you sit cross-legged? Doctor warns of increased risk of vein disease – ‘not good’

How the human body can develop varicose veins

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Varicose veins and DVT are just two of the conditions that can develop due to unhealthy veins. The NHS explains that the first, varicose veins, develop when veins become swollen and enlarged. Usually occurring on the legs or feet, veins turn blue or dark purple, and are often lumpy, bulging or twisted in appearance. The latter, DVT, is caused by a blood clot in the vein. If not treated the condition can become dangerous causing swelling and redness in the leg. Dr Finigan – an experienced clinical practitioner at UK Vein Clinic, specialising in vascular medicine – explains that conditions such as these, although not a “dreadful diagnosis”, should be treated as soon as possible, and urges individuals to recognise if they have poor vein health.

“Unhealthy veins give two separate types of symptoms,” Dr Finigan explains when asked how individuals know if they have unhealthy veins.

“The first, a patient would see bulging blue lumps, which are called varicose veins. And that’s a visible feature that can often make patients feel self-conscious about their appearance and affects what clothes they wear.

“So visibly, bulging veins are generally unhealthy veins. And the other category of symptoms are more how your legs feel, which is a bit more difficult to describe.

“You can have vein disease or poor vein health without any significant bulging blue veins on your legs and the symptoms patients tend to get are heaviness of the legs, and aching, especially after they have been on their feet for a significant amount of time. For example, a teacher or a hairdresser may find that they have to sit down and put their legs up because they get relief from symptoms if they raise their legs.”

Dr Finigan went on to explain that aches and pains in the legs are often also associated with other medical conditions, such as arthritis, so often individuals do not realise that the source of their discomfort are their veins.

However, if individuals seek medical advice soon after experiencing symptoms such as these, medical tests can be carried out to rule out any other underlying health condition. “What would make us particularly suspicious of a poor vein health in the legs, would be first of all occupation,” he added.

“If somebody has a standing occupation, they’re more likely to have poor bone health. Also the pattern of their symptoms. Do their symptoms tend to creep on through the day, and then they don’t get symptoms if they aren’t standing for too long.”

The NHS explains that individuals are at a higher risk of developing conditions like varicose veins if they are overweight, pregnant, or have a family history of the condition – all of which Dr Finigan agrees with.

Interestingly, another thing that the doctor said may affect vein health is sitting crossed-legged. Dr Finigan added: “There is a big vein that comes up around the back of the knee, right in the back of the bend, and if you have your legs crossed or use your other knee to exert pressure on the back of the other knee, you can reduce blood flow back up the leg.

“It is not so much of an issue in the short-term for example people sitting at a restaurant, but if you have a job that involves sitting with your legs crossed in one position for longer periods, that is thought to be not good.

“It is a slightly less important factor, but still relevant in terms of movement of blood up the legs, and that is all to do with veins.”

The vein referred to by Dr Finigan is known as the popliteal vein. Crucial for carrying blood from the legs to the heart, it is one of the vessels doctors call a “deep vein” because it’s far underneath your skin.

In some cases a clot can form within the popliteal vein, causing pain, swelling, and redness in the leg and knee area. The condition, known as, popliteal vein thrombosis can occur due to poor blood flow, damage to a blood vessel, or an external injury.

Dr Finigan added that height is another factor that can put people more at risk of unhealthy veins than others, as the taller someone is, the further blood has to travel. The American Heart Association explains more about this.

A study carried out and published by Dr Nicholas J Leeper, a vascular medicine expert and cardiologist at Stanford University in California, found that certain genes that determine a person’s height are linked to varicose veins. In addition, researchers observed shared genes linked to varicose veins and DVT.

What can you do about unhealthy veins?

As briefly mentioned, Dr Finigan recommends that individuals who are suffering from symptoms should not hesitate to seek medical advice, as treatment for varicose veins or other vein related health complications can be relatively straightforward.

“Seeking prompt advice and having prompt assessment of your veins will result in a better outcome,” Dr Finigan adds. “What we can achieve with treatment when patients have the earliest stage of vein disease is far more than if patients wait until they have got ulceration or some irreversible changes.”

Treatments for varicose veins and vein disease are normally minimally invasive and take about 45 minutes. More than 90 percent of patients can be treated this way, but in some cases others might need more complex surgery.

At this stage, three of the most common treatment options include:

  • Endothermal ablation – where heat is used to seal affected veins
  • Sclerotherapy – this uses special foam to close the veins
  • Ligation and stripping – the affected veins are surgically removed.

In order to prevent unhealthy veins, and the need for medical procedures, Dr Fingian provides his top tips for how individuals can maintain their vein health. This includes:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle
  • Taking breaks for those in standing occupations
  • Going for regular walks
  • Exercising regularly
  • Wearing compression hosiery.

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