Varicose veins manifest as twisting blue and purple lines that are visible on the skin’s surface. The veins enlarge due to a condition called venous insufficiency, in which blood cannot travel from the lower extremities to the heart as efficiently as it once did. Instead of getting pumped back up toward the heart, the blood begins to pool in the lower legs and feet. This leads to swelling in the veins. Over time as this progresses, these veins eventually become the large and often painful varicose veins that are seen through the skin.
Nearly any vein of the body can become varicose, but the problem is most frequently seen in the thighs and lower legs. That is because this is the area where vessels have to work the hardest to pump blood back to the heart against the force of gravity. The tiny valves that keep blood flowing in a single direction in the lower limbs are more likely to wear out, allowing blood to reflux back into the vein.
While there are many reasons that venous insufficiency and varicose veins might emerge, the result is often the same: discomfort, low self-esteem and frustration on the part of the patient. The pain from, and appearance of, varicose veins can significantly limit your lifestyle. Standing or walking can become uncomfortable; wearing clothing that doesn’t fully cover your legs might make you self-conscious. If your varicose veins are problematic for your happiness and your ability to live your daily life the way you want, it’s likely time to seek treatment. Learn more about varicose veins and how the team at the PCI Vein Center can help.
Causes of Varicose Veins
There are many risk factors for developing varicose veins. Some of the most common causes include:
The strength and structure of your blood vessels is a partially inherited trait. While genetics can’t predict whether you will get varicose veins with absolute certainty, if your mother had varicose veins, you have a higher likelihood of developing the condition as well. That being said, environmental factors — whether you drink or smoke, how often you exercise, what you eat — play an active role in shaping the way your genes are expressed. It is possible to prevent — or worsen — genetic varicose veins through lifestyle efforts.
While varicose veins only affect 15-25% of all adults, they are seen in one out of every two adults over the age of 50. This is because our blood vessels and muscles tend to become weaker as we age and become more prone to twisting or collapsing. It’s important to follow a heart-healthy diet and exercise regimen as you age to help keep your circulatory system running smoothly.
Women are more likely to develop varicose veins than men. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why this condition affects women more frequently, but there are several theories — most likely, it is a combination of factors including hormonal shifts, lifestyle and pregnancy. Some studies have linked the female sex hormone progesterone to blood vessel dilation, which would likely play into the development of varicose veins over time.
Overweight, obesity and weight gain all increase a patient’s risk of developing varicose veins. Body weight puts pressure on the veins in the lower legs, which means they need to work harder than usual to pump your blood back to your heart. Particularly in cases of individuals who gain weight suddenly, this can become too much for your blood vessels to handle at once and result in veins becoming varicose.
Pregnancy combines two other known risk factors for varicose veins: hormones and weight gain. Pregnant women are therefore at risk for developing varicose veins during their pregnancy, when weight gain puts pressure on the legs and hormones like progesterone are at much higher levels than usual.
Long Periods of Standing
People who work at jobs that require long periods of standing are also more likely to see varicose veins develop on the lower limbs. Similar to weight gain, constant standing puts exceptional pressure on your legs and feet and can cause blood vessels to become overworked. Standing still, in particular, can be problematic for varicose vein development because blood can begin to pool in your lower body instead of being pumped back to the heart.
Varicose Vein Prevention
When you know the risk factors associated with varicose veins, it can be easier to take steps to prevent them. While nothing can completely eliminate your risk for varicose veins, these tips may help you minimize the condition:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Elevate the legs and feet whenever possible
- Use compression stockings to promote healthy blood flow
- Avoid extended periods of standing or sitting
While varicose veins may not be much more than a cosmetic concern, some people do develop uncomfortable symptoms with their varicose veins, including heaviness or achiness in the legs, swelling, muscle cramping or a feeling of restlessness in the legs. In more severe cases, venous insufficiency can also lead to the development of skin ulcers on the lower leg around the ankle, which can be difficult to treat and have a high recurrence rate. It’s important to pay attention to your circulatory health and seek a diagnosis and treatment for varicose veins if they become problematic.
Varicose Vein Treatment
If you have varicose veins and want to reduce their visibility or symptoms, the PCI Vein Center offers a variety of treatments that help. These treatments aim to safely seal or remove the affected veins. Your body naturally reroutes blood flow to healthier blood vessels, which reduces or eliminates the discoloration of varicose veins and also lessens pain or discomfort. Our treatment options include:
Please visit our treatment pages to learn more about each of these procedures, or schedule your consultation at the PCI Vein Center to find out how we can help. If you have concerns about your varicose veins, you don’t need to live with them any longer. Contact us at the PCI Vein Center to learn more about your choices in eliminating unsightly and painful varicose veins. We are here to help you find the right treatment for your needs. Call us at 319-774-8432.