Causes of varicose veins

Causes of varicose veins

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Varicose veins are veins that are enlarged or twisted due to malfunction of the valves. Valves are responsible for pushing blood back to the heart. If the valves are weakened or damaged, the blood starts flowing backward and pools up, causing dark, bulging, twisted, and swollen veins. Any vein close to the skin surface can be varicose. They are more common in women as compared to men because of some changes that only women go through during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. People having a family history of varicose veins or standing for long periods every day are at a higher risk. It can cause aching, pain, and discomfort. Anyone can have varicose veins but it is not necessary that everyone feels discomfort because of this. It is commonly noticed in the legs as more pressure is displaced in the veins of the lower body or simply the legs due to standing and walking. It can be treated using self-care measures or procedures done by a healthcare provider to close or remove veins.

What are the symptoms of varicose veins?

A few signs of varicose veins are as follows:-

  • Dark purple or blue discoloration of veins

  • Veins that appear twisted and bulging, often appearing like ropes on the legs

  • An achy or heavy feeling in the affected area

  • Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in the lower legs

  • Intensified pain after sitting or standing for a long time

  • Itching around the veins

  • Changes in the skin color around a varicose vein

What are the risk factors of varicose veins? 

There are a number of things that can increase the likelihood of developing varicose veins. These are:

  • Gender: They are more common in women as compared to men because of some changes that only women go through during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. Female hormones are more likely to relax the walls of veins, making the valves more prone to leaking.

  • Genetics: People having a history of varicose veins in the family or closed family member are more likely to develop varicose veins. This is partly caused by genes.

  • Age: As people get older, their veins start to lose their elasticity and the valves inside them stop working as well.

  • Obesity: Veins have to work harder in overweight people to send the blood back to the heart. This increases pressure on the valves, making them more prone to leaking.

  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time: Blood does not flow easily when someone's standing for long periods of time.

  • Occupation: Jobs that require a long period of standing are more likely to cause varicose veins. 

  • Pregnancy: During pregnancy, the amount of blood is increased to support the developing baby. Increased hormone levels during pregnancy also can cause the muscular walls of the blood vessels to relax, which increases the risk. Varicose veins can also develop as the womb begins to grow. Although being pregnant can increase the risk of developing varicose veins, most women find their veins are improved after the baby is born.

What are the main causes of varicose veins?

The most common causes of varicose veins include pregnancy, standing for long periods of time, and obesity. Varicose veins are usually caused by weak or damaged veins and valves. Arteries are responsible for carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body while veins are responsible for returning the blood to the heart. To return the blood, the veins have to work against gravity. Muscle contractions in the lower legs act as pumps, and elastic vein walls help blood return to the heart and the tiny valves in the veins are opened as blood flows toward the heart, then get closed to stop blood from flowing backward. If the tiny valves in the veins that return blood to the heart are weakened, they can allow blood to fall back into the vein due to gravity, and get collected causing the veins to stretch or twist, thus affecting areas of the lower body, such as the legs, the most. When blood flows back down the veins it can collect there causing the veins to become enlarged and skin discoloration can occur. 

The reasons why the walls of the veins stretch and the valves in the veins weaken are not fully understood and there are few people who develop the condition for no obvious or apparent reason.

In rare cases, varicose veins are caused by conditions such as:

  • a previous clotted blood

  • a swelling or tumour in the pelvis

  • abnormal blood vessels

When to see a doctor? 

If you notice the previously mentioned symptoms or you're concerned about how your veins look and feel and self-care measures haven't helped, you must see a doctor or healthcare provider.

How can varicose veins be prevented?

Improvement in blood flow and muscle tone may reduce the risk of developing varicose veins. The measures that treat the discomfort from varicose veins can also help prevent them. Some of the measures are as follows:

  • Avoiding high heels and tight hosiery

  • Changing your sitting or standing position regularly

  • Eating a high-fiber, low-salt diet

  • Exercising

  • Raising your legs when sitting or lying down

  • Watching your weight


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