Causes & Risk Factors of Varicose Veins

What Causes Varicose Veins?

There are two sets of veins in your extremities.  Deep veins are located beneath your muscles.  The deep veins are responsible for 85% of blood return from the legs.  The superficial veins are located under your skin and above your muscles.  These are the veins that are visible to the naked eye.  Most superficial veins are extra veins and are not needed.  These veins are typically utilized by heart and vascular surgeons when bypasses are needed.  The normal function of both deep veins and superficial veins in your legs is to carry blood back to the heart. During physical activity like walking,  the calf muscle acts as a peripheral pump.  Muscle contraction squeezes the veins forcing blood back to your heart. To control the direction of your blood flow, veins have numerous structures within them called valves.  In varicose veins, the valves are often dysfunctional  and blood leaks back through the damaged valves.

Current treatment modalities are directed at occluding the offending superficial veins.  Blockage of these bad veins forces blood flow to go through normally functioning veins resulting in relief of symptoms.

What are the Risk Factors for Varicose Veins?

Several factors increase your risk of developing varicose veins:

  • Age. The risk of varicose veins increases with age. As you age the valves in your veins that help regulate blood flow get weaker and/or impaired. When valves aren’t working properly they allow some blood to flow back into your veins where it collects instead of flowing up to your heart.
  • Sex. Women are more likely to develop the condition. Hormonal changes during pregnancy, pre-menstrual cycles or menopause may be a factor because female hormones tend to relax vein walls. Birth control pills or hormonal replacement therapies may increase your risk of varicose veins.
  • Family history. If your related family members have varicose veins, then  there’s a greater chance you will too.
  • Obesity. Being overweight puts added pressure on your veins.
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time.Being stagnant or standing for long periods reduces your blood flow

Complications of varicose veins can include:

  • Ulcers. Extremely painful wounds may form on the skin near varicose veins, particularly near the ankles. Ulcers are caused by long-term fluid buildup in these tissues, caused by increased pressure of blood within affected veins.
  • A discolored spot on the skin usually begins before an ulcer forms. See your doctor immediately if you suspect you’ve developed an ulcer.
  • Blood clots.Occasionally, veins deep within the legs become enlarged. In such cases, the affected leg may swell. Any sudden leg swelling warrants urgent medical attention because it may indicate a blood clot — a condition known as thrombophlebitis.
  • Bleeding. Occasionally, veins very close to the skin may burst and cause minor bleeding. Any bleeding from varicose veins warrants medical attention because there’s a higher risk for it to happen again.

What Can You Do to Help Prevent Varicose Veins?

To reduce the risk of varicose veins forming you can:

  • Avoid standing for extended periods of time.
  • Exercise and stay active to improve your leg strength.
  • Lose weight if necessary and try to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Refrain from crossing your legs for extended periods of time.
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure.
  • Wear medical compression stockings

If you already have varicose veins, you should take the steps above to prevent new varicose veins. You should also elevate your legs whenever you’re resting or sleeping.