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Why Do I Get Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States.  According to one study, vein disease is the most common reason for losing time from work.

But, why do so many people get vein disease and why do more women have it than men?

Some numbers – 60% of American women and men suffer from some vein disorder by the time that they are in their 60s. Women get the disease by a margin of two to one.

To understand why you get varicose veins, you need to understand the underlying anatomy of varicose veins.  When blood circulates to your lower legs and feet, there is nothing like your heart in these areas to pump the blood out of your legs.

Rather what happens is that movement of your legs causes contractions of the muscles in your legs. These muscles massage the veins and push blood up towards your heart. This system has one big flaw.  After the blood pumps upwards, gravity just carries it back down into your lower legs and feet. To prevent back flow, there are one-way valves in the veins in your leg.  When the blood moves up, the valves open and the blood flows up.  When gravity tries to pull the blood downwards, the valves close and prevent back flow.

When you get varicose veins, it is because the valves don’t work.  They become leaky.  Some of the blood flows downwards.  Thisleakage causes the veins to swell and bulge.  And voila: you have varicose veins.

With this background, it is easier to understand some of the causes of varicose veins.

Estrogen weakens the wall of the veins and causes the valves to malfunction. So, women get varicose veins more commonly than men.

Estrogen releases in high quantities during pregnancy.  Again, it causes the veins to malfunction.  It also starts a vicious cycle.  After your first pregnancy, the valves partially heal, but you are still left with damaged valves.  When you get pregnant a second time, the new damage is on top of old damage, so the valves are worse than they were with the first pregnancy. Again, they heal somewhat after the pregnancy is over, but you are left with more residual damage than after your first pregnancy.  This cycle gets worse and worse with each subsequent pregnancy, so by the time you’ve had a few children, your veins are a mess.

For all these same reasons, if you take estrogens as a medication, you’re more likely to get varicose veins.  Post-menopausal women used to take estrogens routinely.  That practice has fallen off, so this is a less common cause for varicose veins.

If you’re older, then you are more likely to have varicose veins.  Remember, the column of blood in your leg puts downward pressure on the valves.  The valves aren’t perfect.  Years of pressure on them causes them to leak.  So, as you age the chance that you will get varicose veins increases.

It’s also true that if you have a job that causes you to stand all day, then you are more likely to get varicose veins.  That’s why we see so many teachers and firefighters in our practice.  While you’re standing the column of blood exerts pressure on the valves.  The more you stand, the more pressure that is felt by the valves and the more likely it is that they will become leaky.

Lastly, it turns out that there is a genetic component to varicose veins.  If your mother suffered from them, you’re more likely to get them.

Estrogens, being a woman, older age, standing a lot, bad family history – that’s a lot of reasons why you get varicose veins.  If you’re reading this article, you’re already worried that you have them. And you probably do. So, make an appointment with a board-certified phlebologist (vein specialist) to get your legs examined.  We’re always here to help you with your legs at Vanishing Veins.  Just give us a call at (860) 761-6666.

– Dr. Greenwald

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Why Do I Get Varicose Veins?
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