Varicose veins can develop through a combination of weakened vein walls and faulty valves. Normally toned, elastic vein walls can become weak and allow the recirculating blood that should be moving toward your heart to flow backward. One-way valves in these veins can also fail to function properly. This allows blood to pool and pressure to build up, which further weakens and subsequently damages the veins, causing them to become twisted, enlarged and painful.
For some people, there are no symptoms and varicose veins are simply a cosmetic concern with visible large veins under the surface of the skin. For others, varicose veins may cause aching, pain, and discomfort or “heavy” legs. Mild swelling or bruising of your ankles and feet, throbbing or cramping in your legs, or even itchy legs (especially lower leg and ankle) are also possible symptoms.
To understand the causes of venous disorders, you have to start with the circulatory system. Our circulatory system is made up of two separate parts: arteries that take the blood from the heart to all the tissues in our bodies and veins that return the blood back to our heart. The arteries benefit from gravity, which pulls the blood downward from our heart, whereas the veins have to generate their own pumping action to resist gravity and move the blood back up to our heart. To move the blood in this way, our veins are arranged in two layers: deep veins that run vertically within our muscles and superficial veins that are arranged as a network of thousands of vessels. When the veins are unable to pump blood properly, blood begins to pool in our veins instead of moving upward toward our heart. This pooling is what leads to the appearance of spider and varicose veins as well as the more serious symptoms of leg pain, leg swelling, and blood clotting.
There are several risk factors that contribute to vein disease:
Aging is one of the most important risk factors. Small venous problems often progress into large ones over time. A decrease in the body’s production of collagen, a breakdown of the elastic material in vein walls causes them to breakdown and stretch over time, which ultimately results in bulging veins, more visible veins, and swelling in the veins.
Genetics is also a significant risk factor. Vein disorders run in families, and if you have a family member with spider or varicose veins, you are more likely to develop them yourself.
Ethnicity also plays a role in the development of venous disorders. Research has found that Caucasians have a higher incidence of varicose veins than people of Hispanic, African American, and Asian descent.
Mobility can be an important treatment method as well as a risk factor. Sitting, lying, and particularly standing for long periods of time hinders the ability of the leg muscles to pump blood, slowing down the blood flow.
The severity of vein diseases can range from cosmetic to life-threatening, so it’s important to come in for a free screening if you think you have a venous disorder or are considering different treatment options. We will be able to evaluate the severity of your condition and recommend the right treatment options for you.
Information sourced from the American Vein and Lymphatic Society, Sciton and Medtronic.