Among certain groups of people, varicose veins are highly likely to develop, such as pregnant women, elderly people, and people who live very sedentary lifestyles or spend a lot of time standing. It’s common for people to feel self-conscious about varicose veins, due to their blueish and bulging appearance, however the real danger lies beneath the skin: varicose veins can develop into blood clots and deep vein thrombosis, which are a much greater health risk.
Why Do Varicose Veins Occur?
Each vein contains small valves, which help to push the blood back up towards the heart from the extremities. These valves slowly weaken over time, and can stop working effectively. This means that the blood begins to pool around the failing valve, and escape into the tissues surrounding the vein. This pooling can cause the vein to bulge and take on a darker blue-greenish colour, and the blood escaping into the tissue can cause swelling, itching, and an eczema-like rash. Varicose veins are particularly common in the leg veins, as the valves in the legs are fighting against gravity, which makes them more likely to fail.
Varicose veins are also more likely to appear during pregnancy, or as a result of aging. People who are overweight or sedentary are also predisposed to these types of veins. During pregnancy, a pregnant woman’s blood volume increases by double, which puts extra pressure on the leg veins and valves. The pelvis is also under extra strain, due to the weight of the baby and placenta. Aging is another factor behind varicose veins forming, as the veins are less effective as they get older, and “as many as one out of every two people over the age of 50 are affected by varicose veins”.
What Makes Varicose Veins Dangerous?
Varicose veins may appear at first look to be an aesthetic issue, but if they are not treated promptly they can become dangerous. Blood clots and deep vein thrombosis can form from varicose veins, due to the pooling blood around the failed valve. These developments can be life-threatening. Varicose veins can also become something called chronic venous insufficiency, which means that the veins are not delivering enough nutrients and oxygen to the tissues in the leg.
Varicose veins can also easily get bumped or cut, and result in bleeding that is difficult to stop. However, despite these risks as a feature of varicose veins, treatments are available to stop the vein from getting worse.
Prevention and Treatment
There are a number of steps you can take to prevent varicose veins from developing in the first place, and also treatments to stop varicose veins from getting worse. First, ensure that you have a healthy diet and get regular exercise. Taking care of yourself generally is a good way to make sure that your cardiovascular system is in good shape.
Next, consider preventative measures such as support stockings. Support stockings for varicose veins have been shown to improve the appearance of the veins, as well as preventing pain and swelling. They are also non-invasive, and can be easily incorporated into your wardrobe, as a number of fashionable support stockings are now available on the market. Support stockings are worn on the calves, and are tighter at the bottom and looser at the top. This uneven pressure pushes blood upwards from the extremities towards the heart, allowing the small valves in the leg veins to function more easily.
If varicose veins have already developed, you may need to seek treatment. Heat-based treatments and chemical treatments are the two most common approaches, and minimally-invasive treatments are now primarily chosen. Heat-based treatments usually use electricity or lasers to burn the affected vein and close the leaking part of it. Chemical treatments also close the leaking portion of the vein, however they do so by blocking the vein with a foam or other chemical solution.
Varicose veins are a common occurrence, and generally do not need to be worried about, particularly if they are small. However, if your varicose veins are increasing in size or number, or you are experiencing increased pain or swelling, consider seeking treatments. First look to diet and exercise, as well as support stockings, and then follow up with a professional varicose vein surgeon if you require more assistance.