An all too common blemish in aging adults is the formation of visible, unsightly veins along the legs and under the skin. Even if they are generally benign and pose little more than a cosmetic issue, the dark blue or purple streaks nonetheless create a sense of ill health and concerns about worse conditions.
Many seek out vein treatment to bolster their self-image in later years. Some people, who either aren’t aware of these treatments or believe them to be inaccessible or unsafe, opt for various home remedies instead. How effective are these versus modern medical treatments? Do they help or harm? Should you opt for the vein specialist’s help? Read on to learn more about these conditions and the various remedies, effective and otherwise.
Spider Veins and Varicose Veins
Also called thread veins, spider veins get their name from their distinctive appearance as thin lines, webs, or branches ranging from blue to purple or red in appearance. Spider veins can form anywhere on the skin or mucous membranes but are most common on the face or legs. Varicose veins have a more striking appearance. They are darker in color, visibly twisted, enlarged, and often cause the skin to bulge out slightly.
Spider veins are considered to be a milder instance of varicose veins because of similarity in how they form. Veins rely on surrounding muscles and a series of one-way valves for blood flow. When the valves or walls grow too weak to direct blood flow, blood starts to pool and build up pressure, leading to dilation and deformation.
Circumstances that cause higher pressure on the veins are potential factors for varicose veins—pregnancy, obesity, and standing for long periods are a few. Trauma, sunburn, age, and high blood pressure can also damage veins, and smaller veins can burst and create the characteristic webs or branches. Spider and varicose veins are commonly surface veins because they have fewer supporting muscles. They are generally painless, though the skin around varicose veins can become inflamed. Complications can also arise if a varicose vein is damaged further.
Historical treatments were generally invasive and potentially more harmful than the initial condition, so many have turned to holistic remedies. Such remedies are not well-researched, though, and modern treatments have become considerably more effective in the meantime.
Several home remedies focus on reducing the risk of varicose veins forming. These include regular exercise, weight, and diet management, proper posture, refraining from sitting, standing too long, and skin care treatments like using sunscreen. While these do address many of the factors that promote varicose veins, hormonal influences and hereditary traits are shown to affect these veins as well. Therefore, the risk is not entirely alleviated. Additionally, these remedies cannot treat varicose veins that already exist, though they may keep the condition from worsening and are good habits in general.
Compression socks and stockings can help manage varicose veins and prevent them from worsening, as well as hiding them in the first place. While these don’t present a full treatment, they work as effective self-care, and many doctors will recommend them for such.
For blood pressure and circulatory health, proponents often suggest ginkgo balboa, sweet clover, horse chestnut, witch’s hazel, and butcher’s broom as herbal remedies. Health food retailers and nutritionists swear by them for spider and varicose veins as well. While there may be evidence that these herbs can alleviate swelling or aching, no formal studies have demonstrated the usefulness of these supplements towards varicose veins specifically.
Swelling is a secondary symptom to varicose veins, and ginkgo and other herbs don’t show visible effects on counteracting vein dilation. Managing blood pressure after the fact is also not a meaningful treatment. More significantly, these herbs can do worse than have no effect—unexpected side effects can arise due to reactions with prescribed or over-the-counter medicine, or due to individual differences in physiology. Raw horse chestnut, in particular, is toxic, especially for pregnant women. Natural does not always mean healthy. If you plan to take herbal supplements, consult your doctor first to assess the risk of adverse reactions.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has been passed down as a holistic remedy for generations. The conditions it’s said to treat are widespread, ranging from digestive complications and sore throat to split ends―and of course, varicose veins. In regards to varicose veins, practitioners recommend an apple cider compress applied to the affected skin twice a day. It should be emphasized that apple cider vinegar is primarily composed of apple juice, alcohol created by fermentation, and acetic acid as a byproduct of bacteria processing the alcohol.
Vitamin K Supplements
Vitamin K is a group of fat-soluble vitamins that the body uses to produce prothrombin that, among other functions, facilitates proper blood clotting. A deficiency in vitamin K can cause hemorrhaging. In practice, this includes varicose veins. However, vitamin K deficiencies are highly rare in the United States, as a regular healthy diet provides enough of it. Vitamin K supplements are also not common as over-the-counter products because of this, and taking more of it when you already have healthy levels is not likely to be beneficial.
Proven Vein Treatment Methods
Modern treatments for visible veins are largely painless and, at worst, minimally invasive. These include sclerotherapy and endovenous laser treatment. The method chosen generally depends on how deep under the skin the varicose vein is, in addition to the size of the vein. Sclerotherapy is the more common treatment when addressing small, tributary veins.
Sclerotherapy is designed to destroy varicose veins, promoting blood flow to be redirected to healthier veins. A medical solution called sclerosant is injected in or around the target vein with a fine needle. The vein swiftly shrinks and collapses, and blood flow is naturally diverted elsewhere. The initial treatment is done within 10 minutes, and the vein is broken down and absorbed by the body over time. For larger veins, a foam sclerosant may be used instead.
When an injection is not feasible, endovenous laser treatment is used. The vein is numbed, and a catheter containing laser fiber is inserted. The doctor uses ultrasound to track its location while inserting the catheter. When it reaches the target vein, the laser is activated to heat the vein tissue. The result is the same as with sclerotherapy: the vessel shrinks and breaks down over time while blood flow is redirected to other veins. The initial procedure and full recovery will take longer, but the treatment is safer and more effective for deeper veins.
Though home remedies for varicose veins can appeal to those fearful of professional treatments or their costs, they lack evidence of their effectiveness. Additionally, today’s vein treatments are far safer and more viable than they have ever been. At Gilvydis Vein Clinic, you can expect advice and personalized treatment for varicose veins and other conditions, all from a friendly and experienced team. To learn more or schedule an appointment, contact us today!
Image Credit: Getty/Eugeniusz Dudzinski