Varicose veins are so common that many individuals wonder whether they will develop these abnormal blood vessels. Understanding what a vein doctor has to say about their causes and risk factors is helpful to many prospective patients.
As many as 25 million Americans have a varicose vein problem, according to the UCDavis Health System. A majority are women. A varicose vein is a blood vessel with a diameter larger than 3 mm. Related vessels include reticular veins, 1-3 mm, and spider veins, always less than 1 mm in diameter. Although patients often notice a varicose vein’s raised, ropelike appearance, these vessels reside beneath the surface of the skin. The first sign of their development is often a vein that looks blue or purple, usually in the leg. PubMed Health describes the role of a vein as transporting blood from the extremities back to the heart to pick up oxygen. To travel upward, blood must move against gravity. As a person walks, leg muscle squeeze deep veins, helping blood to advance despite the force of gravity. Veins have one-way valves whose job is making sure blood flows toward the heart and preventing it from moving downward. Some individuals have weaker-than-average valves in their veins. When a valve is weak or damaged, it malfunctions. This allows blood to seep backward and pool behind the valve. Another reason blood fails to travel toward the heart is muscles that do not exert sufficient pressure on veins. This is often because the individual sits or stands for extended periods, causing leg muscles to get insufficient exercise. As blood pools, it exerts pressure on veins. This causes them to stretch and get wider. If blood continues to collect, it can eventually cause varicose veins due to building pressure within these blood vessels.
The two risks most often associated with varicose vein development are genetics and aging. No one knows the exact cause of a genetic predisposition, only that family history plays a role. Advancing age often brings a weakening of vein valves. According to the Cleveland Clinic, these additional factors can increase an individual’s risk:
Fortunately, vein specialists offer a number of treatment options to treat varicose vein problems. They range from conservative lifestyle changes like losing weight to minimally invasive treatment such as endovenous laser therapy. Physicians typically use surgeries such as vein stripping on a limited basis.