Quick Answer: Varicose Veins are caused by defective valves in the veins that allows blood to pool down instead of being pushed back up to the heart. This blog details why, who is at risk and ways to mitigate the causes.
Varicose veins is a medical condition that develops when your veins become enlarged, twisted and painful. When this occurs, the varicose veins become lumpy and easily visible through the skin. While varicose veins can happen anywhere on the body, they are most common on the legs and thighs.
But what exactly causes a varicose vein?
Deoxygenated blood is moved away from the organs and tissues through a series of tubes, called veins, back to the heart and lungs to eliminate waste and pick up oxygen to replenish the body tissues. Veins are a thin-walled tubes that are elastic and contain valves.
The blood is moved through veins by muscle contraction and the valves preventing blood from flowing backwards. If these valves become damaged or no longer function, they allow blood to flow backwards, against gravity, and this causes the blood to pool in the vein, leading to swelling of the vein.
As the walls of the vein are elastic, the constant swelling of the vein stretches the wall. With the stretching of the vein, this pulls the valve apart allowing for the valve to remain open, causing further pooling of blood and swelling. Over time, the vein is not able to relax to its normal position, causing further swelling and then twisting of the vein.
Conditions & Risk Factors that can increase the development of varicose veins
Since varicose veins are caused by dysfunction of the valves and weakening of the vein wall leading to swelling in the veins, there are specific conditions, or risk factors that can increase the occurrence for the development of varicose veins.
These conditions or risk factors include:
- family history
- prior trauma to the veins
- reduced movement
Family History & Genetics
Family history is a common cause to develop varicose veins. Genetically the veins or the valves may be weaker. About half of those suffering from varicose veins have another family member that also suffers from varicose veins.
Increase in age leads to wear on the body. Veins are no exception to this rule, which can lead to weakened valves and vein walls.
Women and Varicose Vein Causes
Women have a higher chance of developing varicose veins, mainly due to hormonal changes or the use of hormonal contraceptives. The hormonal changes in pregnancy can increase varicose veins, but in addition pressure is placed by the growing baby on the veins in the pelvis and legs.
Excess Weight & Obesity
Carrying excess weight with being either overweight or obese places pressure on the vein, which causes an increase in pressure within the vein, leading to weakening and dysfunction of the valves leading to varicose veins.
Reduced movement with either standing or sitting in a stagnant position for long periods of time places pressure on the veins. Veins move blood with the aid of muscle contraction and if the muscle is not contracting, the vein must work harder to move blood against gravity toward the heart, which can weaken the valves and vein walls.
Any prior trauma to the veins, such as a deep venous thrombosis, also called a blood clot, can weaken the walls or valves of the vein.
Having one or many of these risk factors is not a sure sign for the development of varicose veins, but can increase the chance of developing varicose veins. Some of these risk factors can be managed, but others are unable to be changed, such as gender or family history.