Varicose veins are swollen and enlarged veins that appear usually in the legs. They are dark blue or purple in colour. These veins can also appear lumpy, bumpy and twisted in appearance. There are a number of different reasons and causes of varicose veins, and it can vary from person to person. Varicose veins occur when the small valves within the veins are not working properly or are damaged. In a healthy vein, the blood will flow through to the heart and the small val;vets will stop the backflow of blood. When those valves are not working as well as they should, blood can gather, causing the vein to get enlarged and swollen, to become varicose. Unfortunately, varicose veins are very common, and can appear in 3 out of 10 adults. Any vein in the body can become affected, but most commonly the varicose veins develop in the legs. This is likely because standing and walking can add extra pressure to the veins and trigger the issues to develop. But what are the main causes of varicose veins? Let’s discuss some of the symptoms and reasons why you may be experiencing them.
Often we don’t realise that our veins have smaller one-way valves that open to let the blood through and then they close to prevent the blood from flowing back. This is how the blood is circulated around the body and makes its way to and from the heart. Sometimes the walls of the veins can become stretched and they can lose their elasticity, this can cause the valves to weaken. If the valves don’t function properly, this can cause the blood to leak and flow backwards. In the event that this happens, the blood then collects in your veins, and this is when they become swollen or enlarged. There are no real reasons or causes why the walls in your veins start to stretch or weaken, some people develop this condition for no reason. But there are other factors that can cause you to be at a greater risk of varicose veins. We have discussed some of the main causes below.
Why it isn’t largely supported there is research that suggests that women are more likely to be affected by varicose veins than men. The research suggests that this may be because of female hormones that tend to relax the walls of veins, which can make the valves prone to leaking and the vein to be weakened over time. Hormones are chemicals produced by the body, and the changes to the hormone levels in your body can be caused by a few different factors that include pregnancy, menopause, and premenstrual syndrome. Sometimes women can generally attract a chemical imbalance in their bodies for now real reason, other than they need their hormone levels checked to ensure that the body isn’t producing more of one than the other to balance things out. Your doctor can suggest whether this is a cause for concern and perform tests to ensure that you resolve the issue moving forward.
During pregnancy, the amount of blood is increased in your body to help support the developing baby. However, this puts extra strain on your veins. Increased hormone levels are also expected during pregnancy, which can cause the muscular walls of the blood vessels to relax a little more. This is because there is the intensity of blood flow, but it can also put you at increased risk of varicose veins. When you are pregnant, you may find that varicose veins may develop in areas such as the womb as it begins to grow. As the womb expands it puts pressure on the veins in the pelvic area, which can sometimes also cause those veins to become varicose. Although there is a risk of varicose veins developing during pregnancy, many women find that veins significantly improve once the baby is born. So it may only be a temporary issue that they face.
Again there isn’t a large amount of research that can support this, but there is some research that suggests that there is a risk of developing varicose veins if a close family member also struggles with the condition. It suggests that varicose veins may be partly caused by the gene you inherit from your parents. There is no guarantee that just because a close family member has struggled with weakened veins in the past means that you will instantly be at risk of them, but it can be something to be more aware of. Perhaps encouraging you to try methods to avoid the varicose veins appearing in the first place.
Old age can affect us in different ways, and we start to notice massive changes in our bodies. Elasticity in areas such as our skin is often more noticeable, as the wrinkles and signs of appearance of old age take shape. But this can also be a cause for your veins to lose the elasticity they once had as you get older. Like many things in our bodies, as we begin to age, things can become weakened and not function as well as they should. Plus you may become less active which can mean that varicose veins start to appear.
There are other suggestions that your occupation can have much to do with varicose veins becoming part of your life. If your job requires long periods of standing, for example, this may increase your risk of varicose veins. This is down to the fact that blood does not flow as easily when you are standing for long periods. It may also be a factor to consider if you spend most of your day sitting down at a desk, without taking regular breaks to move around. Again the blood flow might not be as easy as it would be if your body was more active and moving.
There is no denying that the more weight that we carry, the more pressure this can put on our bodies and subsequently the veins within it. The veins have to work harder to send the blood back to the heart. This can put increased pressure on the valves, making the more prone to leaking and backflow of blood. The impact of weight on the development of varicose veins is more apparent in women, research suggests. Again this can be because of the mix of hormones in the body causing the veins to be more relaxed at certain stages of life.
You may also find that you start to struggle with varicose veins once your body has been through a particular type of health condition. Yjos mau include a previous blood clot, a swelling or tumour in the pelvis area or even suffering with abnormal blood vessels. Your health is important, and when you are struggling with some form of condition, your body needs to repair itself far more quickly. Again this can put extra pressure on your veins as the heart needs to pump more oxygenated blood around the body faster, to help with the healing and recovery process.
How to diagnose varicose veins?
If you start to notice the appearance of varicose veins you may grow concerned. But if you find they are not causing you any discomfort, then you may not need to visit a health profession. Varicose veins are rarely a serious condition that requires treatment immediately. However, you do need to speak to a health professional if:
- Your varicose veins are causing you pain or discomfort in certain areas of your body.
- The skin over the veins is sore and irritated. Maybe dry or swollen in appearance.
- There is aching in your legs causing irritation at night or even disturbing your sleep.
Varicose veins tend to be diagnosed based on appearance. Any health professional will closely look at the affected area looking out for signs of swelling. You may also be asked to describe the pain and discomfort that you are feeling in your body. For example, some women may find that when they are going through their menstrual cycle or even symptoms of menopause that this can affect their varicose veins more. A health professional may also ask you:
- Whether there is a family history of varicose veins.
- Whether you are pregnant.
- Whether you have a healthy body mass index .
- If there is any blood clots to be concerned about.
- A history of leg injury. This might be a broken leg, for example.
You may also be referred to vascular specialist if there is any concern for the following:
- The varicose veins are causing pain, discomfort or swelling. Also any heaviness or itching or the skin.
- If there are any changes to the colour of the skin in the affected area.
- If there are any other skin conditions causing problems in the affected area such as eczema, for example.
- If the varicose veins are hard or painful that might start to cause problems with blood flow to the affected area.
Can varicose veins cause any complications?
Varicose veins can cause some complications when it comes to the affected area as they can stop blood flowing properly. Most people who have varicose veins won’t develop any complications at all, but if you do, it will usually be several years after the varicose veins first appear. Some of the complications that you may experience are as follows:
- Bleeding – Varicose veins near the surface of your skin can sometimes bleed if you cut or bump the affected area. The bleeding may be difficult to stop. If this happens you should lie down, raise your leg and apply direct pressure to the wound.
- Blood clots – Blood clots may develop in superficial veins which are located just under the surface of your ski, if this happens, it could lead to other conditions such as deep vein thrombosis.
- Chronic venous insufficiency – If the blood in your veins doesn’t flow properly, it can interfere with the way your skin exchanges oxygen, nutrients, and waste products in your blood. If this is disrupted for long periods of time, it is known as chronic venous insufficiency.
Treating varicose veins
Varicose veins don’t normally need treatment, unless they start to cause you discomfort or pain. Sometimes the only reason to treat varicose veins is to ease symptoms of them, to treat any of the complications that can be caused by them, or even for cosmetic reasons. If treatment is needed then the suggestions can be things like compression stockings, regular exercise, avoiding standing for long periods of time and elevating the affected area when resting.