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?
According 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 ...
- Why is it important to treat varicose veins
- Diagnosing and treating varicose veins
- Centre of excellence for vein care