Varicose Veins: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

What are the causes?

Varicose veins develop when an excessive amount of pressure on the legs or abdomen negatively impacts the valves inside your veins. When valves are continually undergoing pressure–whether from pregnancy, obesity, or prolonged standing or sitting–they become weak, floppy, and damaged, making blood flow impossible and blood pooling inevitable. Enough blood pooling inside the veins causes them to twist and swell, resulting in the ropy, cord-like look of varicose veins.

Who's at risk?

Between 20-30 million Americans have varicose veins. Contributing factors include heredity, gender, age, weight, pregnancy, history of deep vein thrombosis (DVT and blood clots), and standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time. By age 50, 41% of women will suffer from varicose veins. Similarly, by the time they reach their 60s, 42% of men will suffer from venous insufficiency.

In addition:

  • Varicose veins are an inherited genetic disorder. The gene is an autosomal dominant with variable penetrance. This means the gene is passed down to every generation, but certain environmental factors are required to activate the gene. For example, estrogen and progesterone–different female hormones–activate the gene. And, heavy labor, obesity, and prolonged standing can also activate the gene over time.
  • Almost 50% of varicose vein patients have a family history of the disease.
  • Your chances of developing varicose veins are over 90% if both parents have the disease.
  • Daughters have a 60% chance and sons have a 25% chance of developing varicose veins if only one parent has the disease.
  • Varicose veins affect women more than men: 55% of women and 45% of men.
  • An estimated 41% of women over the age of 50 have varicose veins.
  • Moderately overweight women have a 50% increased risk of developing varicose veins.
  • Women with a BMI greater than 30 are 3x as likely to develop varicose veins.
  • Pregnancy increases the risk for developing spider and varicose veins.

What are the risk factors?

  • Aging
  • Family history of venous insufficiency or a history of blood clots
  • Use of oral birth control pills
  • Hormonal changes during puberty, menopause, or hormone replacement therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time
  • Wearing a girdle or clothing that's too tight
  • Obesity
  • Constipation
  • Sun exposure
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