Why do varicose veins develop?

Images: Shutterstock

Varicose veins can come as something of a shock, especially when they develop in our 30s and 40s, after all, they are a problem that we associate with older women. In fact, this medical condition affects around 30% of all adults. Even people in their 20s may develop these lumpy, bumpy, blue-ish veins.

So why do varicose veins occur?

varicose veinAccording to Professor Stephen Black of the UK Vein Clinic, varicose veins need to be taken seriously because they are a sign an important function in the body isn't working as it should be. He says: ‘Veins usually carry blood from the legs up to the heart. The blood is prevented from flowing backwards by one-way valves, however, if these valves become faulty blood is able to flow back down into the legs where it pools and hardens causing varicose veins.’

Any vein in the body can become varicose, but they most commonly develop in the legs and feet, particularly in the calves. This is because standing and walking puts extra pressure on the veins in the lower body.

Who is at risk of getting varicose veins?

Doctors are not certain why the walls of the veins stretch and the valves in veins weaken in certain people, although it is likely to be in part, genetic. There are certain groups who are at higher risk, however, some people develop the condition for no obvious or apparent reason.

You are at risk of varicose veins if you:

  • Are over 40
  • Take the contraceptive pill or HRT 
  • Have relatives with varicose veins 
  • Are overweight or obese 
  • Have a history of a blood clot or damage to the vein 
  • Have a job that means you spend long periods sitting down
  • Are on your feet a lot with your work
  • Are pregnant

It might seem counter-intuitive that both sedentary work and jobs that involve a lot of standing heighten the risk of varicose veins. The reason is the muscles of the legs help move blood forward. So, whether you're sitting or standing for long periods of time, this means the muscles are prevented from helping move the blood against gravity.

Are varicose veins a female issue?

Both men and women can develop varicose veins, although women are affected at around twice the rate. It’s believed that this is hormone related. Professor Black says: ‘Varicose vein symptoms affect men and women differently. In men, itching of the skin is the main symptom whilst women typically report heaviness and aching. However, anyone can have any combination of these symptoms. It is worth noting also that many of these symptoms are not specific to varicose veins only – for example pain may be due to arthritis.’ Men may put off seeking help until symptoms become severe leaving them vulnerable to complications.  

Why is it important to get help for varicose veins?

According to Professor Black, it is very important to understand that they are a sign of vein disease. ‘Untreated varicose veins may progress to complications such as ulceration, blood clots (thrombosis) and in the worst case scenario a blockage in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), which can be fatal,’ he says. 

Lifestyle changes can help with your general health and may prevent future varicose veins developing. But ultimately, the evidence for the ability of diet and exercise’s ability to reverse existing varicose veins is very weak. The latest clinical evidence clearly shows that non-invasive surgeries using radiofrequency technology deliver by far the best outcomes for the majority of patients. They are precise and effective, offering lasting relief from symptoms while minimising possible downsides of treatment (like post-op pain and scarring). Find out more here.

Read more ...

Inflammation of one or more joints of the body. Full medical glossary
A fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of all living organisms. Full medical glossary
Blood that has coagulated, that is, has moved from a liquid to a solid state. Full medical glossary
A condition that is linked to, or is a consequence of, another disease or procedure. Full medical glossary
A term used to describe something that prevents pregnancy. Full medical glossary
Obstruction of blood flow by an embolus, a clot (or other material, for example, fat or air) that has become dislodged from elsewhere in the blood system. Full medical glossary
One of the three main food constituents (with carbohydrate and protein), and the main form in which energy is stored in the body. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of genetic material carried on chromosomes. Full medical glossary
Relating to the genes, the basic units of genetic material. Full medical glossary
A substance produced by a gland in one part of the body and carried by the blood to the organs or tissues where it has an effect. Full medical glossary
Abbreviation for hormone replacement therapy, the administration of female hormones in cases where they are not sufficiently produced by the body. Full medical glossary
A large abdominal organ that has many important roles including the production of bile and clotting factors, detoxification, and the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Full medical glossary
Tissue made up of cells that can contract to bring about movement. Full medical glossary
Any test or technique that does not involve penetration of the skin. The term 'non-invasive' may also describe tumours that do not invade surrounding tissues. Full medical glossary
A craving to eat non-food substances such as earth or coal. Full medical glossary
The formation of a blood clot. Full medical glossary
Any abnormal break in the epithelium, the outer layer of cells covering the open surfaces of the body. Full medical glossary
The presence or formation of an ulcer - an abnormal break in epithelium, the outer layer of cells covering the open surfaces of the body. Full medical glossary
A structure that allows fluid to flow in one direction only, preventing backflow. Full medical glossary
Abnormally swollen. Full medical glossary
A vein that is swollen, distended and twisted, usually due to weakness of its valves. Full medical glossary
A blood vessel that carries blood towards the heart. Full medical glossary