Varicose Veins & Genetics: The Latest Research
Varicose veins are a very common condition, affecting up to 30 percent of adults, translating to millions of people worldwide. Caused by weakened vein walls and faulty valves, can you blame your parents for these enlarged, twisted veins that often appear on the legs?
Like most things having to do with family, it's complicated.
Understanding Varicose Veins
Before delving into the genetic factors, let's briefly understand what varicose veins are and how they develop. Varicose veins are a result of weakened or damaged valves within the veins. Usually, veins have one-way valves that allow blood to flow toward the heart while preventing it from flowing backward. When these valves become weak or damaged, blood can pool in the veins, causing them to swell and twist, leading to the characteristic appearance of varicose veins.
Several tell-tale symptoms characterize the condition, including leg pain, swelling, cramping, and skin changes such as discoloration and ulcers. These symptoms can significantly impact an individual's quality of life, causing discomfort and mobility issues.
Varicose veins can develop due to various factors, including genetics, age, obesity, and prolonged periods of standing or sitting. It is more common in women and often becomes more prevalent with age.
Genetics and Varicose Veins
Family history has long been associated with an increased risk of developing varicose veins. Several studies have explored the genetic component of this condition. According to the NIH, the risk of developing varicose veins for the children was 90 percent when both parents suffered from this disease, 25 percent for males and 62 percent for females when one parent was affected, and 20 percent when neither parent was affected.
These statistics reveal that while genetics alone may not guarantee the development of varicose veins, they can significantly increase your susceptibility.
Hereditary Influence on Vein Structure
The structure of your veins can also be influenced by genetics. According to UCLA Health, some individuals are born with weaker vein walls or valves and a shortage of vein valves, making them more prone to developing varicose veins and may play a role in determining who develops spider veins and at what age.
Genetic Markers and Varicose Veins
Genetic factors can affect the elasticity of the vein walls and the overall integrity of the venous system. When these structural components are compromised, it becomes easier for varicose veins to form.
Recent advancements in genetic research have allowed scientists to identify specific genetic markers associated with varicose veins. In a study published in Biomarkers in Medicine (Volume 14, Issue 2 / February 2020), titled "Genetic biomarkers in chronic venous disease," scientists have isolated the FOXC2 gene that "encodes a regulatory transcription factor and plays a role in the normal development of the lymphatic and venous system, in particular, the development and the maintenance of venous and lymphatic valves function."
While strong evidence supports the connection between genetics and varicose veins, environmental factors play a significant role in whether a person with a family history of vein disease develops varicose veins. According to a study published in the AHA Journal Circulation:
"Several environmental risk factors have been associated with the development of varicose veins, namely age, female sex, obesity, and possibly occupations requiring prolonged periods of standing. However, primary varicose veins are also seen in young adults with no specific cause. Current evidence suggests a strong association of varicose veins with a positive family history. Although it is apparent that there are critical genetic components involved in the disease etiology, there is still limited information on this important aspect of CVD pathophysiology."
The Role of Collagen
Collagen is a protein that plays a crucial role in maintaining the strength and elasticity of vein walls. Genetic variations in the production and quality of collagen can impact the risk of developing varicose veins. Consisting of amino acids, collagen is a binding agent in the body, giving strength and elasticity to your skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and blood vessels, including veins. Bodies produce less collagen as we age, weakening vein walls and allowing blood to pool within the vein.
Considering its role in strengthening vein walls, adding collagen-rich foods to your diet could, theoretically, prevent varicose veins. Collagen-rich foods include beef bone broth, skin-on chicken, and vitamin-C-rich fruits such as citrus fruits, red peppers, strawberries, and broccoli.
Collagen powder is all the rage these days, but the jury is still out on whether taking collagen pills or consuming collagen drinks will make a difference in skin, hair, nails, or veins. Speak to your physician before adding this supplement to your diet.
Interplay of Genetics and Lifestyle
It's important to emphasize that while genetics can increase your predisposition to varicose veins, they are not the sole determinant of the condition. Lifestyle factors, such as prolonged periods of standing or sitting, obesity, and pregnancy, can exacerbate the risk. Moreover, individuals with a genetic predisposition should take extra precautions to manage these lifestyle factors.
Preventing and Managing Varicose Veins
If you have a family history of varicose veins or other risk factors, it's essential to be proactive in preventing and managing the condition. Try the following strategies:
- Maintain a Healthy Weight: Obesity can increase the pressure on your veins and exacerbate varicose veins. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise can help reduce this risk.
- Stay Active: Regular physical activity can improve blood circulation and strengthen the muscles that support your veins. Activities like walking, swimming, and cycling are particularly beneficial.
- Elevate Your Legs: Elevating your legs whenever possible, especially when resting or sleeping, can help reduce swelling and improve blood flow. The Mayo Clinic recommends raising your legs above your heart for 15 minutes before and after work every day for people who have to stand as a part of their job.
- Avoid Prolonged Sitting or Standing: If your job requires long periods of sitting or standing, take breaks to move around and stretch your legs.
- Compression Stockings: Graduated compression stockings can help support your veins and improve blood flow. These should be worn as recommended by a healthcare professional.
- Seek Medical Evaluation: If you experience pain, swelling, or discomfort in your legs, consult a Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) vein health provider for a thorough evaluation. CVR is the largest physician-led vein center in the United States.
Genetics and Varicose Veins: The Bottom Line
Family history, hereditary factors related to vein structure, and specific genetic markers contribute to an individual's risk of developing this condition. While genetics plays a significant role in the development of varicose veins, genetics alone does not determine whether varicose veins will develop. Why? Lifestyle factors also play a crucial role in whether or not one develops an uncomfortable, often unsightly vein condition.
If you have a family history of varicose veins or other risk factors, taking preventive measures and seeking medical advice is essential. By understanding the interplay between genetics and lifestyle, you can take proactive steps to maintain healthy veins and reduce the likelihood of varicose vein development.
Have Varicose Veins? Center for Vein Restoration Can Help!
As the industry leader, CVR's board-certified vein specialists can diagnose your vein disease and develop a customized treatment plan just for you! CVR accepts many insurances, including Aetna, Amerigroup, Anthem, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Cigna, MultiPlan, Medicaid, Medicare, and more.
Call 1-800-FIX-LEGS (1-800-349-5347) to speak to a Patient Services Representative or schedule your consultation online at a CVR near you today.