This is an age-old question, often surrounded by myths. The usual adage being, “Oh no, I have my mothers or fathers legs”. We do know that one third of the population suffer from varicose veins in one form or another. Some believe this number is actually higher, especially as many men tend to not seek treatment and therefore often do not contribute to the total. Studies conducted in the UK through the NHS, have highlighted that up to 56% of men and 60% of women have varicose veins.
This article breaks down the common causes and risk factors that increase the chances of developing varicose veins. In order to give you some insight into why it occurs in the first place.
Varicose veins are those bulging veins that are seen on lower limbs, especially the legs and thighs. They can occur because of weakening of the valves, absence of valves in some people, or even damage to the valves of the veins in the limb.
The most common cause for damage of the valves is following a deep vein thrombosis, whereby there is a clot in the deeper veins. This damages the wall of the vein, affecting the valves and impairing blood flow through the veins.
One way to think about it is to imagine a rubber pipe watering system with valves, that allow water to flow in one direction when opened and stops water from travelling when closed. If this valve stops working, it then allows water to travel in both directions, without any control. Eventually if the pressure is too great, this will cause the rubber pipe to expand or swell up and affect other valves up or down the pipe. When this happens, more valves in various locations along the path of the pipe stop working as well. As the pipe becomes bigger than the original valve, this allows water to leak through in other places, despite having a normal valve.
Similarly, when the valves in veins are abnormal or damaged, the veins can get distended along the length of the vein and not function properly. This then gets carried to other areas of the vein that may have had a well functioning valve in the first place. Almost like a domino effect.
The above is the predominant cause of varicose veins, but the question still remains: Why do some people have varicose veins and others do not?
This comes down to risk factors. Over the years, many studies have been done to show which are the highest risk as compared to those that may only cause a small risk or no risk at all after completing the study.
Busting the Varicose Vein Myths
Below are some of the high risk factors for developing veins in no particular order:
Genetic or family history
- If you have a family member, mother or father specifically who have a history of having varicose veins, then you are going to be at risk as well.
- Both progesterone and oestrogen play a major role, affecting the vein wall directly. This will explain why symptoms may be more prominent during the menstrual cycle for women.
- During pregnancy as a result of hormonal changes as well as increased blood flow, veins tend to expand (dilate), but they do come back to almost normal after pregnancy. For those who have weak valves or who are genetically predisposed, their veins may be worsened by pregnancy. Repeated pregnancies increases the risk whether there is genetic predisposition or not.
- Being overweight increases the risk of varicose veins, almost as an aggravating factor rather than a cause. Some people, more commonly in women have a condition called “lipoedema”, whereby there is a build of fat tissue and they have a higher risk of developing varicose veins.
- Standing or sitting for long periods increases the risk, which possibly also explains the higher risk of varicose veins in developed and industrial nations.
- As you get older, the elasticity of the veins reduces making it more susceptible to expand. This has been shown in multiple studies to date.
Smoking has been postulated to be a risk factor of varicose veins, but the evidence is lacking. We do however know it affects management, but probably does not affect veins directly.
There has not been any conclusive evidence regarding posture and sitting cross- legged as a trigger for varicose veins. However, isolated direct trauma may trigger varicose vein developments in affected regions.
If you are not sure what is causing your varicose veins, but have noticed them and want to find out how to get rid of them, do not hesitate to contact us at Doctor Vein, on 03 91908922. We will be happy to evaluate and manage all your varicose veins concerns.