102018Mar

What Causes Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins create two types of problems.  For some patients, they are a cosmetic concern that affects self-esteem.  Others, however, suffer from pain and other discomforts that negatively affects their respective lifestyles or experience serious medical complications.  Understanding the causes of and risk factors for these blood vessels helps patients more easily live with them and understand the vein treatment options available.

Varicose Vein Overview

Most varicose vessels develop in the legs.  They are bulging, ropelike veins that appear blue or purple and seemingly bulge through the skin, Stony Brook Medicine explains.  They sometimes look like a cluster of grapes.  The most common locations where they form are on the calves, inside a thigh, and on the back of the leg.

Of the 80 million U.S. residents who suffer from vein disease, around 55 percent are female.  The symptoms both men and women commonly experience include:

  • A feeling of leg heaviness or fatigue
  • Leg pain
  • Cramping or aching
  • Swelling, sometimes with throbbing
  • A burning or tingling sensation
  • Tenderness around the affected veins

When vein disease persists long-term, it sometimes results in a condition called chronic venous insufficiency.  This in turn can cause irreversible damage to the skin.

Varicose Vein Causes

Veins return blood from the extremities to the heart, where it begins recirculating.  They contain valves that open and shut to control blood as it flows upward.  If a valve malfunctions due to age or damage, its inability to close correctly permits blood headed for the heart to succumb to gravity and fall backward.  As it pools behind the valve, it stretches the vessel’s walls to the point that it becomes a varicose vein.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a number of factors are potential causes and risk factors for developing varicose vessels:

  • Pregnancy sometimes enlarges vessels in the legs.
  • Aging stretches veins and weakens valves.
  • Hormonal considerations linked to being born female, using hormone replacement therapy, or using birth control pills can cause vein walls to relax.
  • Excess weight puts pressure on vessels.
  • Standing or sitting for prolonged periods interrupts optimal blood flow.
  • Genetics is sometimes a predictor of a varicose vein problem.

Vein Treatment Options

A number of self-care steps can reduce the discomfort associated with varicose vessels and help prevent the development of future ones.  Patients should avoid wearing high heels or tight clothing, boost the level of physical exercise that uses the legs, and elevate their legs when at rest.  Avoiding sitting or standing in the same position for long periods and losing excess weight are also helpful. 

Depending on the severity of the problem, a vein doctor might recommend a conservative therapy such as compression stockings as the initial varicose vein treatment.  Varicose vein surgery is uncommon these days.  The most common outpatient therapies include an ambulatory phlebectomy, a chemical or laser ablation, and foam sclerotherapy.