Varicose veins are visible and protruding veins that are usually seen on the legs. They lie just under the skin. Varicose comes from the Latin word varix meaning ‘twisted’. The blood flow in these veins significantly slows down and often reverses when you are standing up. This fills the varicose vein with blood causing them to ache. Varicose veins can also become red and inflamed, this is called phlebitis.
Varicose veins usually appear between the ages of 30 to 70, but there are cases where varicose veins have appeared as early as the childhood years. They usually get worse as people age. These veins are more predominant in women than in men. Family history is considered as a predisposing factor to having varicose veins.
Causes of Varicose Veins
There is no exact reason as to why people develop varicose veins, but certain studies have shown that there are factors that affect the growth of varicose veins. Usually a combination of factors is involved with a strong family history. Here are just some of them:
Pregnancy can cause varicose veins due to the fact that there is pressure on the lower extremities due to the weight of the mother and the child. The same result can be seen in obese and overweight people.
Standing for long periods of time
This can also result in having varicose veins. Standing for long periods of time exerts more pressure on the veins of the legs. Gravity causes blood to pool into the veins creating a protruding effect if you have a tendency towards varicose veins.
The veins contain valves that keep the blood flowing to your heart. Due to the factors stated above, and sometimes deep vein thrombosis, the valves do not work properly and they become weak. This forces the blood to pool, and pressure builds up. Once the pressure is at its peak, the vein becomes dilated and large. This becomes the protruding varicose vein we commonly see.
Varicose veins are not painful most of the time but do often cause aching and itching. They do not have an immediate effect on the health of a person. However, there are also times that varicose veins can be a sign or symptom of an underlying disease, such as deep vein thrombosis. Deep vein thrombosis needs to be treated immediately.
Some people may experience heaviness of the calves, a burning and itching sensation, tiredness or pain in the lower extremities, swelling of the feet and legs, and some skin colour changes. In later life, varicose veins can cause ulcers in around 15% of patients with varicose veins.
The visibility of varicose veins can be reduced by wearing compression stockings and doing regular exercise. Varicose veins can be prevented by avoiding long periods of standing and by propping the legs up if they are tired.
Any information in this article should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or relevant health professional.