It’s never pleasant to see a ropey, discolored vein pop up on the back of your thigh or create a blue trail down your calf. If you’re wondering what causes these irregular veins, which most often appear on the thighs and calves, you’re certainly not alone.
The underlying cause of varicose veins is related to damage to the vein walls and faulty valves within the veins. These valves are tiny flap-like structures that close periodically to prevent blood from flowing backward and pooling in your veins.
If your veins widen or stretch, or the valves themselves weaken, they can’t close appropriately. As the valves fail and blood pools, the affected veins become ropey, lumpy, and irregular.
But what causes the veins to weaken? Common causes of varicose veins include:
As you age, veins can lose their elasticity and the valves within your leg veins may weaken and begin to malfunction. This allows blood to flow backward into the vein and creates the looping and gnarled appearance of varicose veins.
If your parents or grandparents have varicose veins, you’re at a higher risk of developing them also. This may be due to an inherited weakness in your vein walls or valves.
If your job requires you to stand for long periods, your risk of developing varicose veins increases. The veins in your legs rely on calf muscles to help push blood back toward the heart. Standing for most hours of your day can interfere with this process. Professions affected include teaching, nursing, factory work, and hairstylists.
Blood volume increases greatly during pregnancy, but the rate of blood flow from your legs to your pelvis decreases. This circulatory change is designed to support your baby, but it can also enlarge the veins in your legs and lead to varicose veins. Hormone fluctuations experienced during pregnancy are also known to affect vein health.
4. Excess weight
Being overweight adds pressure to your veins and can negatively affect your circulation and the ways in which your vein walls and valves react to blood flow.
While both men and women experience varicose veins, women are much more likely to develop these irregular veins. This is likely related to the hormone changes women experience with menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
6. Hormone replacement after menopause and use of birth control pills
Hormones used in birth control pills and in hormone replacement therapy tend to relax vein walls, which may lead to the changes noted in varicose veins.
7. Sitting position
When you sit for many hours during the day with your legs crossed or bent, your veins have a more difficult time pushing blood back to your heart. This can cause veins to stretch and enlarge, making it impossible for the valves within your vessels to close appropriately. That can lead to the blood pooling that causes varicose veins.
8. Poor nutrition and inactivity
Diets high in salty, overly processed foods can cause you to retain fluids, which can create problems with your circulatory system and vein health.
Also, a sedentary lifestyle often results in poor muscular tone in your calves. Because the veins in your legs rely on calf muscles to help push the blood in your veins upward against gravity, this can lead to the changes associated with varicose veins.
What are the treatments for varicose veins?
Treatments depend on the size and location of the vein and are typically focused on shutting off the damaged vein. Whenever possible, Dr. Suri prefers nonsurgical, in-office procedures because they’re much less painful and overall more convenient for his patients than surgery.
Your treatment may include sclerotherapy, during which your West Coast Medicine and Cardiology provider injects a substance into the vein that causes it to collapse and fade away.
For larger or deeper veins, Dr. Suri may recommend endovenous laser ablation. During this procedure, laser heat energy introduced into the affected vein via a tiny tube (catheter) causes the vein to shut down and essentially die.
For more information about varicose veins and how to get rid of them, schedule an appointment today at West Coast Medicine and Cardiology.