Circulatory Problems

by Jenifer Worden

In order to understand what can go wrong in the circulatory system, it  always helps to understand how it works. As a doctor, I have spent many  years getting to grips with how a heart works and what veins and  arteries are, and what they do, but I appreciate that what has become  second nature to me might not be so to anyone else. I will, therefore,  explain what circulation is, what can go wrong with it and, most  importantly, how homeopathy can help. I will discuss three problems of  the venous system (veins) and three problems of the arterial system  (arteries). When discussing various problems and their homeopathic  treatment, I most commonly would use a 6c or 12c strength remedy twice  daily for physical symptoms only, for example varicose veins, and a 30c  strength for a severe problem having both physical and mental symptoms  like heart failure. This is, however, a rough guide only and for complex  symptoms, I would always recommend that you seek advice from a  professional medical homeopath

What is circulation?
The heart is basically a powerful bag of muscle, which by  alternatively relaxing and contracting, acts as a pump. Each cycle of  relaxation and contraction forms a single heartbeat, which we feel as  our pulse. The blood circulating around the body and head comes through  large nveins (vena cava) in to the right side of the heart. The right  side of the heart is divided into an upper and a lower chamber (space)  divided by a one-way valve. As the heart squeezes (contracts), the blood  is pushed through this valve and out into the lungs via a blood vessel  known as the pulmonary artery. The blood then passes through the lungs,  where it absorbs oxygen from the air that we breathe in with every  breath. The blood, full of oxygen now, returns to the left side of the  heart via the pulmonary vein, into the upper chamber first and then into  the lower chamber. It is finally squeezed out into the aorta, which is  the large artery leading from the left side of the heart. The blood then  passes around the body and head, releasing its valuable oxygen load,  before returning via the vena cava to start the whole process all over  again.

The reason why blood is so important is that oxygen is needed by  every living tissue and cell in order for it to grow, repair and  reproduce. Oxygen makes blood bright red. This is why blood taken in  routine blood test at hospital or the GP surgery is a dark red colour as  it comes from the veins (unless the nurse or doctor has made a  mistake!) and so has little oxygen.

Arteries and veins
The arteries are like the big brothers of the circulatory family.  They are strong and have relatively thick, muscular walls, which are  hard to stretch but better at maintaining pressure. They are able to  cope with fluctuations in pressure, caused by the alternate contraction  and relaxation of the heart but if put under too much pressure, they  will start to build up their muscular walls, rather like an athlete or  body-builder does when muscles are asked to do extra work. This makes  them harder to stretch and therefore increases the pressure within the  arteries, which we measure as blood pressure.

The veins are the little brothers; they are thinner-walled with less  or little muscle. They cannot hold pressure in the same way as the  arteries. Linking the arteries to the veins are small arteries known as  arterioles, which become smaller capillaries, which in turn join  together to form the larger venules, which then form larger veins. By  the time the blood is back into the veins, most of the blood pressure  has dwindled away so the venous system is a low pressure one. In order  to help the blood supply return to the heart from the lower half of our  body, which means it must work against gravity, there are small one way  valves in the veins of our legs; more about those later!

Right, so we have a pump with a network of veins and arteries keeping us healthy and alive, what can go wrong?

Varicose veins
These are very common and can be either be inherited from our  parents or acquired. They are often regarded as a bit of a joke but to  anyone who has them, they are not particularly funny. They give rise to  troublesome symptoms such as tired, aching legs, swollen ankles and  sore, hardened areas in the legs. Remember those one-way valves in the  legs that I mentioned earlier? It is the gradual failure of those veins  due to increased pressure on the venous system in the legs that leads to  the blood not being pumped back to the heart so efficiently. This means  that extra pressure is put on those simple valves, which sometimes give  up the ghost completely and fail. When they do, they lead to the veins  becoming stretched and contorted, which in turn gives rise to the  familiar raised, knobbly varicose veins. Pregnancy, constipation and  standing for long periods of time all put extra pressure on the veins in  the pelvis, which in turn affects the lower leg veins. They can be  associated with inflammation in the varicosities (phlebitis) or eczema  around the lower calf and ankle (varicose eczema).

Conventional treatment relies on blocking the veins where the valve  has failed and allowing undamaged veins in the area to take over. This  can be done by injection or by physically “stripping out” the damaged  veins surgically. However, there are several homeopathic options to try  before the situation becomes too severe. Pulsatilla is a very commonly  used remedy, due to its affinity for circulatory disorders; especially  those associated with pregnancy. This does not mean that male members of  the population cannot use it! Reasons to choose Pulsatilla for the  treatment of varicose veins include the symptoms being all right one day  but not the next. People who do well with Pulsatilla often tend to be  mild-mannered, avoiding arguments if they can, but these are  generalisations and are only meant as a guide when treating very  physical symptoms, such as varicose veins.

My second choice of homeopathic remedy for varicose veins would be  Calc carb. Whereas Pulsatilla tends to suit people who are generally  warm-blooded and prefer to have fresh air in their homes, those  requiring Calc carb are definitely chilly, with markedly sweaty feet.  They hate damp conditions or damp weather but, like those needing  Pulsatilla, tend to be mild in manner, perhaps verging more to the shy  side or slightly nervous.

Another useful remedy, related to Calc carb is Calc fluor. This is  particularly useful where there are hardened, knotty varicosities of the  veins, especially after phlebitis. An almost specific remedy for  varicose veins and piles is Hamamelis. Sulphur can be used when there is  ulceration and irritation of the varicosities, such as in phlebitis or  varicose eczema. One of the key symptoms for choosing Sulphur is “must  scratch until it bleeds”.

The technical term is haemorrhoids. The term pile is often used for  both true of the anus, and false piles, which are usually skin tags or  polyps of the anal and rectal tissue. (Doctors don’t help as we also use  the term interchangeably but the treatment is quite different.)  Haemorrhoids are caused by the same problems that cause varicose veins;  pregnancy and constipation. However, if the circulation is sluggish,  such as if the heart is not working effectively, this can also result in  haemorrhoids.

Haemorrhoids can be internal or external. Internal haemorrhoids stay  inside the rectum and cause discomfort and bleeding on having the bowels  open.  External haemorrhoids drop down and cause pain, bleeding and  difficulty in opening the bowels. Skin tags become inflamed and itchy.  Occasionally, external haemorrhoids can bleed into themselves and cause a  small blood clot that is surprisingly painful, given the size of the  problem. A simple drainage operation by your GP or surgeon can sort this  latter problem out and Arnica is very helpful when taken afterwards.

Homeopathically, Hamamelis, Calc fluor and Arnica are excellent for  haemorrhoids and some of the commercial homeopathic haemorrhoid creams  have a mixture of these remedies within them. If the skin of the anus  has become cracked, giving rise to the symptoms of violent cutting pains  after opening the bowels lasting for hours, Nitric ac can be a real  help. Such symptoms often are given the diagnosis of an “anal fissure”.  Haemorrhoids associated with marked constipation with the desire to open  the bowels but with little effect when one tries, particularly in a  stressed person (typically the “uptight executive”) do well with Nux  vomica.

Cold hands and feet
Being a sufferer myself, I know only too well how painful this can  be. Sneaking in to bed with socks on may not be very glamorous but is  exceedingly practical. Cold hands and feet can be due to your particular  metabolism (“lack of vital heat” in homeopathic terms) or can be due to  failings in the arteries, veins or lungs. A particular problem, known  as Raynaud’s disease, affects predominantly women and has no known  cause. It usually affects both hands and is made worse by cold weather.  Affected fingers go through a set pattern of colour change: white, blue  then red. This is due to changes in the small blood vessels in the  fingers, constriction followed by slowing of the blood supply and then  dilation. If it is due to an illness such as sclerosis or diseases of  the arteries that cause narrowing, the symptoms are known as Raynaud’s  phenomenon. This can also affect pneumatic drill users when it is known  as “vibration finger”.

Remedies to help include Calc carb and  this is also indicated when one suffers from cold feet at night. Cuprum  can help when the soles are burning but the rest of the foot feels cold.  Sulphur is very useful when people suffer from the sensation of cold  feet but the skin is warm to the touch, Phosphorus when the hands feel  cold but are actually warm. Blue hands and feet do well with Carbo veg  and if the person is older, then Baryta carb can be used for the same  symptoms. Several of the homeopathic remedies deriving from snake venom  are used for circulatory problems. This relates to the fact that the  effect of venom from the bushmaster snake (Lachesis), rattlesnake  (Crotalus) and cobra (Elaps) is to cause swelling and paralysis with  pooling of the blood in affected areas. In homeopathy, use of a  substance that causes symptoms similar to those that one is trying to  cure is the basis of the “like cures like” principle.

High blood pressure, hypertension, affects over 16 million people in  the UK and is a major cause of strokes. Ninety per cent of cases are  “idiopathic” – no known cause. Common risk factors, or things that put  you at risk of developing high blood pressure include smoking, being  overweight and inactivity as well as other diseases such as heart  disease (for example, blocked arteries due to cholesterol or  arteriosclerosis) or diabetes. By reducing your blood pressure, you can  vastly reduce the risk of having a stroke. It is possible to make a full  recovery from circulatory problems such as a heart attack caused by a  blood clot in the arteries supplying the heart itself but a stroke can  often leave life-changing residual disability. Eating healthily, taking  regular exercise and not smoking can make a huge difference to your  health. If your blood pressure is raised, it is always wise to seek  medical advice from your GP, practice nurse or hospital doctor.

Contrary to popular belief, high blood pressure has very few symptoms  and is usually found by accident when seeing the doctor for an  unrelated problem or as part of a routine medical. Because of this, it  can be difficult to treat homeopathically but a well-chosen  constitutional remedy selected on the basis of your personality, likes,  dislikes and general symptoms such as temperature preferences can help,  particularly when taken alongside conventional medication. I am a firm  believer in using conventional medication if symptoms cannot be  controlled solely using homeopathic remedies and often lower doses than  expected of conventional medicines can be used alongside a well-chosen  homeopathic remedy.

Natrum mur is a good baseline remedy to try for hypertension, as it  is based on sea salt and the link between excessive levels of salt in  the diet and raised blood pressure are well recognised. People doing  well with this remedy often bottle things up, being good listeners but  perhaps not being so able to talk about themselves. They are sensitive  but find it difficult to cry in front of people who are not close  relatives.

A common side effect of the group of allopathic medications known as  ACE inhibitors is that of a dry, irritating cough. These medications are  used to treat hypertension and other heart problems. Although the  medication can be changed, the cough can take some time to settle. I  discovered by relative accident that Conium, with the prominent symptom  of “cough, with expectoration only after long coughing”, can be an  excellent remedy for this problem, taken at 30c strength daily until the  cough is relieved.

This is simply cramp in the heart muscle and can be due either to  spasm of the coronary arteries (those supplying blood to the heart  itself) or to poor blood supply due to narrowing of the arteries due to  arteriosclerosis. If there is a complete blockage of the blood supply,  leading to damaged heart muscle, then this is a step on from angina and  is a heart attack (myocardial infarction). Prevention of raised  cholesterol levels, and therefore prevention of arteriosclerosis, is  very important. The fitter the heart, the fitter the body. Diet can help  but most of us make too much cholesterol as well as taking it in our  diet so it may be that conventional medication is needed in order for it  to be lowered enough not to be a danger to health.

The predominant symptom of angina is a feeling of pressure in the  chest, “like an elephant”, and the homeopathic remedies for angina often  reflect this sensation of tightness in the chest. Angina is most  commonly felt as constriction in the central chest area but can also  give rise to pain in the neck or jaw or an aching sensation in the left  arm. Cactus is probably one of the best well-known angina remedies with  its hallmark symptom of “constriction … as if of an iron band” when  referring to chest pain. It also has the key symptoms of “palpitation  shooting down the left arm”. It is the remedy that I tend to start with  first, usually alongside conventional medication. If Cactus leads to no  improvement in symptoms, then Glonoine can help. Glonoine is related to  glyceryl trinitrate (GTN), which is used as a very effective orthodox  treatment for angina, being taken either as a spray in the mouth, or as a  small tablet dissolved under the tongue.

Heart failure
This is a common condition with a somewhat frightening title. The  medical profession has looked at many different names to give to the  collection of symptoms that result from the heart not working  effectively but no real alternative has yet been found. It is the heart  working inefficiently as a pump which leads to poor oxygenation of the  blood (causing breathlessness and tiredness) and sluggish circulation  (leading to fluid collecting in the lungs and/or legs). In old-fashioned  terms, this is dropsy. Fortunately nowadays, there are many  conventional medications to reduce or remove these distressing symptoms.  To minimise their use, or to help them work more effectively, there are  a variety of homeopathic remedies to take. Cactus has already been  mentioned with the addition of the symptoms “fear of death”, “heart  weakness of atherosclerosis” and “ice cold hands”, all commonly found in  people suffering from heart failure. Crataegus, hawthorn, has been used  as a remedy for hundreds of years, being noted in Culpepper’s Herbal as  an “invaluable treatment for dropsy”. It can be used homeopathically  either in tincture form or in potency.

Jenifer Worden MBChB MRCGP MFHom is a part-time NHS GP in a  semi-rural general practice in Ringwood, Hampshire and also has her own  private practice in homeopathy and acupuncture in Highcliffe, Dorset.