Obesity and Vein Disease; Is Obesity Really a Problem?

By Jill Buterbaugh, RN, MSN, CRNP, FNP-BC

Let’s face it…obesity is an epidemic in the United States.  Our fast track lifestyles and eating on the go enable us to excuse our bad habits of eating fast foods and processed foods as the mainstay of our diets, while eating healthy is more of a rarity.  People who do eat healthy tend to eat too much of it.  We’ve lost the ability to balance true caloric need from exertion with intake.  Also, it is more expensive to eat healthy.  An excuse many of us use.  But actually, if we eat proper portions of healthy foods, it is no more expensive than eating unhealthy.

Obesity puts a strain on our bodies.  Joints were not meant to handle the burden of excess weight so people often develop immobilizing joint problems due to the chronic wear and tear from lugging extra weight around.  Obesity not only effects our musculoskeletal system, it effects every system in our bodies and contributes to the development of diabetes, high cholesterol, skin disorders, heart and respiratory diseases to name a few.  In fact, some insurance companies are now using obesity as a limiting factor in approving certain medical procedures.

So how does obesity effect our vein functioning?

Veins are the vessels responsible for blood return to the heart.  They work under lower pressures than arteries and rely on the calf muscle to pump the blood back toward the heart.  In addition, negative pressure created by breathing (diaphragmatic excursion) and the heart contracting help pull the blood back towards the heart.  Inside the veins are one way valves that open as the blood moves back toward the heart and close in between heart beats to prevent backflow.

So how does obesity effect our vein functioning?

When we have increased abdominal pressures which can result from obesity, pregnancy and even chronic constipation, this creates resistance to blood return making the venous system work harder.  As our weight increases, we become less active which decreases the amount of assistance the calf muscle pump contributes to venous return.  When the pressures in the veins exceed normal levels, the walls start to dilate.

As the vein walls dilate, they lose their ability to recoil, like elastic that loses its stretch.  These damaged vein walls then lose their integrity and it allows fluids and nutrients to leak out of the veins into the tissues.  The fluid in the tissues causes swelling which the lymphatic system then tries to eliminate causing a burden on that system.  The nutrients in the tissues are not supposed to be there and cause an inflammatory response while the body tries to reabsorb and eliminate them.  The over dilation of the vein walls also prevents the valve leaflets from closing properly and as a result the valves fail to prevent back flow.

What can we do to improve vein function?

See your primary care provider to have a good physical then start an exercise program to work on weight reduction.  The more the calf muscle is engaged, the better the blood return to the heart is.  We encourage walking for a minimum of 5 minutes every hour.  That can be simply walking around in your house or office, getting the mail, or going up and down a flight of steps a couple of times in a row.

See your primary care provider to have a good physical then start an exercise program to work on weight reduction.  The more the calf muscle is engaged, the better the blood return to the heart is.  We encourage walking for a minimum of 5 minutes every hour.  That can be simply walking around in your house or office, getting the mail, or going up and down a flight of steps a couple of times in a row.

Compression therapy also helps improve blood return to the heart by decompressing surface vessels and pushing the blood into the deep system for more effective return to the heart.  We recommend 20 to 30 mmHg knee high compressions worn daily from the time you get up until bed time.

 

Don’t become discouraged!!!  Weight doesn’t increase overnight and it will not decrease overnight either.  Consistency is important but only you can make the lifestyle changes. If you have concerns or questions, please contact our office!

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