Varicose veins typically strike older adults, but younger people may also be at risk. Here’s why.
As you age, your chances of developing varicose veins increases. But even before you reach age 40, you may still see raised ropes of blue and purple veins on your legs and feet. That’s because varicose veins can strike at any age depending on lifestyle, heredity, and other factors.
Statistically, varicose veins predominantly affect women and older adults. Of the roughly 20 percent of U.S. adults who have varicose veins, 22 million women and 11 million men between the ages of 40 and 80 suffer from the condition.
Nevertheless, younger people, especially women of childbearing years, can also develop varicose veins. At any age, it’s important to know your risk factors, take measures to protect your vein health, and seek treatment when symptoms interfere with your quality of life.
Risk Factors for Varicose Veins
To understand the risk factors for varicose veins, you first need to know how the veins in your body work. After the arteries circulate oxygenated blood to your tissues and organs, the blood returns to the heart via the veins. Your veins are able to pump blood back to the heart with the help of small valves that push blood upward.
However, if the valves weaken, the blood pools within the veins and stretches the vein walls. This causes the veins to swell out from under the skin and become what we call varicose veins. These veins are more likely to appear on the legs because those valves have to work the hardest to push blood upward against the force of gravity. In addition to their unsightly appearance, varicose veins can also cause uncomfortable symptoms, including pain, swelling, cramping, itching, and an overall feeling of heaviness in the legs.
The likelihood you’ll develop varicose veins stems from many factors, and age is just one of them. Here are the top five reasons varicose veins might appear:
- Age. Damaged vein valves are the primary cause of varicose veins — and aging is a major factor in weakening these valves. Consequently, as the valves lose their elasticity and strength, the risk of varicose veins rises.
- Pregnancy. About 40 percent of pregnant women develop varicose veins due to hormonal changes. Blood volume surges to nourish the growing fetus, putting more pressure on the veins in the pelvis and legs. At the same time, the pregnancy hormone progesterone widens veins — a leading factor in the formation of enlarged varicose veins. Luckily, the condition usually disappears after delivery.
- Heredity. Varicose veins tend to run in families. So if close family members suffer from varicose veins, you’re likely to have them, too.
- Hormone Therapy. The hormone estrogen contained in birth control pills or hormone replacement medications prescribed to lessen the symptoms of menopause may increase your risk of developing varicose veins.
- Lifestyle. Extra weight adds to the stress put on the veins in your legs and abdomen. A regular exercise routine that focuses specifically on building up calf muscles — such as walking and biking — helps support the veins as they pump blood back to the heart. Further, if you spend hours during the day sitting at a desk, be sure to get your blood flowing again by taking frequent short walks and flexing your ankles while seated.
Fortunately, you can still avoid varicose veins even if you have one of these risk factors. Exercising, wearing compression stockings, elevating your feet several times a day, and maintaining a healthy weight are great self-care methods to lower the risks of varicose veins or reduce the symptoms.
Treating Varicose Veins
Surgical treatment options are also available to eliminate varicose veins. Minimally invasive techniques include sclerotherapy, in which a substance is injected into the damaged vein to force it to close and gradually disappear. Similarly, ablation procedures that collapse the vein with either laser or radiofrequency waves are also popular treatment methods.
You can choose one of the newest techniques to treat varicose veins, as well. One such innovation is VenaSeal. During this procedure, a proprietary adhesive is injected into the damaged vein that closes it, allowing blood to flow to healthier veins. All of these treatments use little to no anesthesia and are done on an outpatient basis.
At Premier Heart and Vein Care, keeping your veins healthy at any age is our top priority. Whether you suffer from varicose veins or believe you are at risk of developing the condition, we will discuss all your treatment options and help you decide on the right one for your individual circumstances. Contact us today to set up an appointment.