Varicose veins can be a hassle, both in appearance and discomfort. And unfortunately, some people are more likely to develop them than others. From genetics to lifestyle factors, here are the common risk factors and causes of varicose veins.
Genetics is believed to be the primary cause of varicose veins. There is strong evidence that weakness in your veins and valves is inherited. Your unique genetic profile determines the strength of your vein walls, valves and muscle density – all of which provide support to your circulatory system. In addition to being born with weak veins, you can inherit too few valves from one or both of your parents.
Another key contributing factor to developing varicose veins is age. And it’s unavoidable. Our veins work hard to keep returning blood to the heart. As we get older, this process, combined with a constant gravitational pull fighting against it, makes vein walls lose their elasticity, thus weakening them and causing them to expand. Additionally, the valves keeping the blood from spilling back into the vein become weaker.
All this results in blood pooling in the vein, making them bulge and turn varicose. But fear not. Getting varicose veins in your 40s, 60s, or even 80s isn’t a certainty. Not to mention, people can get varicose veins as early as their 20s due to the other factors on this list.
Age inevitably causes some strain on the veins. But, weight can cause varicose veins too, and for similar reasons. The more excess weight a person has, the more pressure it puts on the veins, and the harder it is for them to pump blood back to the heart.
Fortunately, unlike with age, weight is manageable. Losing some of it can slow the development of varicose veins or even prevent them entirely. Adding a good exercise routine like a daily 30-minute walk will help in managing the symptoms of varicose veins.
On that note, diet can also contribute to varicose veins. If you frequently eat foods high in salt or fat or low in fibre or drink too much alcohol, you’ll be more at risk. That’s because high salinity results in higher water retention, fats and alcohol negatively impact circulation, and low fibre leads to more straining during bowel movements, thus weakening the veins.
But, while these foods are bad in large quantities, it doesn’t mean you’re forever banned from having a glass of champagne with Sunday brunch or splurging on McDonald’s.
And just as there are foods that can damage veins, there are also a few food items that can keep them strong and healthy. These include fibre, vitamin E, and Flavonoids (often found in fruits and vegetables).
Some injuries can also cause varicose veins for similar reasons to regular wear and tear and strain. That’s because an injury to the vein wall can compromise it, making it weaker and more susceptible to turning varicose.
And if you’re predisposed to forming blood clots, this also puts you at risk as clots can partially block blood flow and affect circulation.
Sex and Gender
As it turns out, women are up to 3 times more likely to develop varicose veins than men. The reason? Hormones. Fluctuations of oestrogen and progesterone (as often happens during pregnancy and menopause) can cause vein walls to weaken.
During menopause, for example, oestrogen levels drop rapidly, causing vein walls to constrict and blood pressure to increase, increasing the strain on vein walls. Drops in progesterone, meanwhile, have the opposite effect. It makes veins dilate, resulting in increased blood flow and more strain.
Pregnancy carries additional risks, as your uterus expands and your blood volume doubles to supply your baby with oxygen. This additional pressure and blood flow puts a pretty significant strain on your veins.
Professions requiring a lot of sitting or standing
Sedentary jobs where you’re required to sit or stand for long hours can also put you at risk of developing varicose veins. When you stand, the gravitational pull makes it hard for the blood to circulate back to the heart, straining the vein wall. And when you sit, your muscles stagnate, weakening your circulation.
Unfortunately, today’s working world is ill-equipped for varicose vein prevention, with many retail jobs requiring 8+ hours of standing and office and transport jobs the same with sitting. Even more active warehouse workers aren’t exempt, as heavy lifting increases pressure on the abdominal muscles, making it harder for blood to travel back from the legs to the heart.
So, while we can’t exactly ask you to switch careers, we do recommend that standers and sitters take every opportunity to take a break and walk around a little or even do some sitting exercises to boost blood flow. And for heavy lifters, get some compression stockings, abide by good lifting practices, and maybe invest in a lumbar belt.
Low Activity Levels
Speaking of sedentary, what kind of exercise do you do? Staying active can go a long way in preventing varicose veins. First, it helps you maintain circulation. And second, it keeps your muscles toned and strong, which ensures there’s less space available for veins to expand and become varicose.
The good news is; you don’t need to become a gym junkie. Something as simple as yoga, swimming, or walking for 30 minutes a day can keep your veins happy and healthy.
So, how likely are you to develop varicose veins?
It’s important to remember that the primary causes of varicose veins are age and genetics. Factors like excess weight, pregnancy, and unhealthy lifestyles will typically just add to the risk. But while it’s not strictly possible to eliminate your chances of getting varicose veins, taking healthy steps like becoming more active and taking breaks between long hours of sitting will go a long way to minimising risk.
Seek specialist advice
If you do end up developing varicose veins, don’t worry. In most cases, you won’t need vascular surgery. Modern technologies allow us to perform safe, effective, and minimally invasive varicose vein treatments. Book a consultation with one of our specialists by calling 13 VEINS (that’s 13 83467).