Varicose veins are characterized by the appearance of bulging, twisted, bluish-purple cords running just beneath the skin’s surface. While it’s possible for any vein in your body to become varicose, this condition almost always affects the legs and feet.
For many people, varicose veins – and a milder variation known as spider veins – are merely a cosmetic complaint. However, other people experience soreness, swelling or even incapacitating pain. Complications can also arise from varicose veins, including blood clots, ulcers and excessive bleeding after injuring a vein.
How do varicose veins form?
Your body circulates blood through arteries and veins. Arteries carry blood away from your heart, while veins return blood to it. Because your legs and feet are so much closer to the ground than your heart, the veins in these parts of your body must work against gravity. Under normal conditions, the elastic, muscular vein walls push blood toward your heart while tiny, one-way valves rhythmically open and close to prevent blood from flowing backward.
Varicose veins develop when these valves stop working properly. This makes it more difficult for the vein walls to fight gravity. Therefore, instead of flowing from one valve to the next, blood pools in the vein, creating congestion that makes the vein bulge and twist.
What causes varicose veins to develop?
Various factors can contribute to varicose veins, including excessive pressure, poor circulation, weakened veins and genetics. About 23 percent of Americans have varicose veins. The specific conditions that put you at risk for developing this condition include:
- Age: Over the years, your veins begin to weaken. The wear and tear of aging can cause the valves not to close as tightly, and thus blood begins to pool in certain areas instead of flowing efficiently back to your heart.
- Gender: Women are at least two times more likely than men to develop varicose veins. Hormonal changes are thought to be a significant factor because female hormones relax vein walls. This means your risk is especially high during pregnancy and menopause and while taking birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
- Family history: If a close relative has varicose veins, your chances of getting them increase.
- Obesity: Excessive weight puts added pressure on your veins. Living a sedentary lifestyle also leaves you with poorly conditioned muscles, which are less effective at helping your veins pump blood “uphill.”
- Sitting or standing still: Blood flow decreases when you remain standing in the same position for a long time, especially while wearing high heels. Circulation also suffers if you remain seated for prolonged periods. A common myth is that sitting with crossed legs causes varicose veins. This is not true, though it can aggravate existing symptoms.
At Arlington Dermatology, we offer a laser cosmetic procedure called Asclera that removes small, uncomplicated varicose veins in your legs. If you’re interested in learning more about this treatment for varicose veins, please call us at (847) 725-0824.