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TCM in understanding and treating Varicose veins

Updated: 18 Nov 2008
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Varicose veins in the legs are often painful and unsightly. 

Office workers and those who don't exercise are at risk for varicose veins, caused by blocked energy and blood. TCM recommends foods and herbs to stimulate circulation, exercise, massage and acupressure. 

Varicose veins in the legs are often painful and unsightly. The abnormally enlarged, twisted and discolored veins are caused by stagnant blood and blocked energy. 

People with varicose veins need to stimulate blood and energy circulation in their legs and change bad habits, such as maintaining the same posture for too long. Exercise helps, so does acupressure, massage and elevating the legs at night while sleeping. 

Varicose veins result from high blood pressure in the superficial veins lying close to the skin, and a poorly functioning valve that is supposed to regulate blood flow back upward to the heart. There are two other kinds of deeper veins that also move the blood. 

The condition mostly affects those who have to stand, sit, and bend for a long time, such as teachers, office worker, physical laborers, even athletes. Those with a family history of varicose veins are at risk, as are obese people and those who do not exercise.

Because of their wider pelvis, women have more twisted veins in the lower body, and are at risk. Pregnant women also are at risk. During pregnancy, the fetal weight presses veins in the pelvis and affects blood in the legs. The condition often clears up after childbirth, but some women continue to have problems. 

In early stage, patients may feel weakness or swelling in the legs. Gradually darker green or purple dilated veins become visible. Without proper attention, the condition will worsen, the veins will become larger, protrude more, and become more painful. 

Varicose veins can also harden sometimes wounds can cause ulcers. 

Traditional Chinese medicine treats the problem by treating energy and blood stasis. 

"Natural-born weak energy channels are a major cause while unhealthy habits make it happen," says Dr Que Huafa, chief the TCM Surgical Department of Longhua Hospital of Shanghai University of TCM. 

Too much physical fatigue, such as standing sitting or walking for too long, will hurt the weak energy channels, resulting in blocked energy and blood circulation in the legs. Weak veins cannot handle accumulated energy and blood and become enlarged and twisted. 

Some cases are also caused by prolonged exposure to cold and damp. Being caught in the rain or walking through water for a long time, for example, may bring on an attack by pathogenic cold and dampness. This can block energy channels, causing varicose veins, according to TCM. 

Varicose veins are more common in people over 45 as their energy level declines, but now it often happens to people in their 30s, according to Dr Que. Unhealthy lifestyle is a big factor. 

"Many young people today hardly move themselves from the computer, either for work or entertainment," says Que. "Sitting in one position for hours usually results in blocked or stagnant blood and energy flow in the legs, causing hidden trouble."  

Reinforcing healthy energy, unclogging energy channels and promoting blood circulation is the main strategy. Chinese patent drugs like "Bu Zhong Yi Qi Wan" (pill of reinforcing zhong jiao and replenishing qi) is often prescribed. 

Herbs that reinforce energy like huang qi (milk veteh) and dang shen (radix codonopsitis) are recommended. A nutritious diet with more fruits and vegetables helps. 

TCM recommends foods that stimulate blood circulation and resolve blocked energy and blood, such as hawthorn, rapeseed plant and red phaseolus bean. Beef, mutton and chicken also warm and unclog energy channels. 

Acupuncture, moxibustion and massage on acupressure points promote synergy and blood circulation and relieve pain. Stimulating acupuncture points like zu san li (three inches below the sunken point at the outer knee) and san yin jiao (three inches above the ankle bone on the inner side of leg) are used in treatment. 

As it is almost impossible to restore enlarge veins to normal and reverse the condition, (surgery and other treatments are possible), prevention control at early stages is important, according to Dr Que. 

Avoiding sitting in one position, standing or bending for long periods. If you cross your legs, change legs often. Desk workers should take breaks, walk around a bit, stretch their legs. While seated, lifting the legs occasionally helps circulation. 

Women should avoid tightly cinched belts and tight waists as they hinder blood circulation in the lower body. Wear loose, comfortable clothes at home. Overweight people should shed some pounds to ease pressure on their leg veins. 

Regular physical exercise, such as jogging, swimming or cycling, can promote blood circulation in the legs. Swimming also helps improve elasticity of the veins, and taking a dip is especially healthy. 

In early stages, special compression stockings are effective in relieving varicose veins, as it promotes blood circulation in the legs by applying external pressure. 

Simple exercise, such as squatting and then standing up, can promote blood circulation in the legs. Massaging the legs at bedtime is a good idea. Elevate the feet about 15 degrees above the bed. This will relieve pressure on leg veins and promote blood circulation. 

SOURCE: Shanghai Daily 

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