Varicose veins are an often painful condition where the veins, usually in the legs, become enlarged and engorged with blood. This enlargement is caused by a failure in the valves that control the blood flow. Affected veins are often raised and dark blue or purple colored. Half of all Americans over the age of 50 have varicose veins.
Causes of varicose veins
- Age. As people age, their veins lose a good measure of their elasticity. This can have the effect of blood pooling in the extremities and actually flowing backwards instead of up towards the heart. This pooling can cause veins to enlarge and become varicose.
- Pregnancy. Pregnancy can be another contributing factor in developing varicose veins. Among the many changes in a woman's body when she is pregnant are changes in the circulatory system that divert blood from the extremities (arms and legs) to the growing fetus. In addition, an expanding abdomen, as with pregnancy, can put added pressure on the veins to one's legs. According to the Mayo Clinic, varicose veins that develop during pregnancy usually improve without treatment after delivery.
- Extended periods of standing. Jobs where you have to stand for long periods of time, such as food service, factory work and laborers, can put excess pressure on veins, which over time will weaken the valves that keep the blood flowing towards the heart.
- Being overweight. Extra pounds, especially in the abdomen, can add extra pressure on veins, just as in pregnancy, and can contribute to varicose veins.
- Family history. There is some evidence that there is a genetic component to developing varicose veins.
Treatments for varicose veins
There are a number of effective treatments for varicose veins. Of course, eliminating contributing factors, such as working on your feet or those extra pounds, is helpful where possible. In addition, compression hose and stockings can help keep your circulation flowing correctly. Outpatient laser treatment can be used to seal off veins that are no longer working properly and redirect blood flow. In extreme cases, where lifestyle changes haven't been effective, in-patient, vein-stripping surgery can reduce pain in a majority of patients.
If you have or are developing varicose veins, you don't have to suffer in silence or tell yourself that it's just a part of growing older. A good vascular specialist or vein clinic can help customize a varicose vein treatment that fits in your budget and lifestyle.