While effective treatment of varicose veins is now possible through minimally invasive options such as injection sclerotherapy, the EVLT or VNUS procedure, if varicose veins can be prevented that is preferable. In order to reduce your risk of developing abnormal leg veins, it is important to understand how varicose veins are caused and which factors contribute to their development.
The function of the veins is to allow the movement of blood towards the heart and for this to occur, the veins have one-way valves to ensure that the blood only flows in the correct direction. However, if these valves fail due to damage, blood is instead able to flow downwards causing pooling of blood, so the leg veins bulge giving rise to varicose veins.
The valves in the veins may fail for a number of reasons and when you attend the Vein Clinic, a history will be taken by Dr. John Tan to assess the possible reasons why this may have occurred. Some of these factors are unfortunately non-modifiable:
- With age the valves within the veins do weaken, so these ugly leg veins do occur more frequently in older people.
- In some instances people inherit weakened valves, which in part explain why varicose veins appear to run in families; around 50% of people with these vein problems have at least one other family member who does too.
- Changes in hormone levels, which occur during pregnancy or the menopause or as a result of taking HRT or contraceptives that contain hormones, can also contribute to changes within the veins.
- During pregnancy varicose veins and spider veins may develop due to the increased amount of blood that is circulating; this and the enlarged uterus can place pressure on the leg veins. The good news is that unsightly leg veins usually improve within three months of delivering your baby, though you will usually experience additional vein problems with subsequent pregnancies.
While you cannot do anything about your age, genetics or changing hormone levels, you can certainly address modifiable risk factors:
- Carrying excess weight puts additional pressure on the veins, so anyone overweight is at increased risk of venous problems.
- A low fiber diet leads to constipation, which itself can cause the swelling of veins.
- Standing or sitting for long periods of time increases the work that your veins need to do, which is especially the case when sat with bent or crossed legs.
- Wearing shoes with a high heel or tight clothing can restrict blood flow, increasing the likelihood of varicose veins.