Varicose veins—large, gnarled veins mostly found in the legs and feet—can affect people of all ages. They may seem like just a cosmetic issue for some people, but for others, varicose veins can lead to pain, discomfort and more serious complications. In some situations, they may signal a higher risk of other circulatory problems. If left untreated, they can lead to conditions like ulcers, blood clots and unexpected bleeding.
Virtually anyone can get varicose veins, but there are several specific groups that are naturally at higher risk. Here are some of these groups, and the reasons why they’re at risk for these and other venous issues.
The risk of varicose veins increases with age. Varicose veins are caused by faulty valves within the legs meant to regulate blood flow, and aging often causes the wear and tear on these valves that leads to this. Over time, valves may allow blood to flow backward in the vein and pool up instead of flowing back to the heart, which causes varicose veins.
Women are more likely to develop varicose veins than men. Hormonal factors during pregnancy, premenstruation or menopause could be a factor—female hormones tend to relax vein walls. Risk may also increase through hormone therapy or birth control pills in some cases.
Roughly half of the people who have varicose veins have a family history of them, and family history raises your chances of getting them.
As the fetus grows in the mother during pregnancy, it puts pressure on the veins in the legs. This can often lead to varicose veins, though know that varicose veins occurring specifically due to pregnancy typically get better within three to 12 months of delivery.
Being overweight or obese can have several health effects, and one of these is the pressure it puts on veins. In some cases, it can lead to varicose veins.
Another important factor in preventing varicose veins is circulation, and long periods of inactivity or sitting can raise your risk. This forces the veins to work even harder than usual to pump blood back toward the heart, especially if you’re sitting with your legs bent or crossed. Regular movement will increase blood flow and lower your risk.
If veins in the legs have undergone blood clots or traumatic damage in the past, their permanent ability to move blood back up to the heart might be weakened. This can lead to higher risk of varicose veins.
If you’ve dealt with vein issues in the past or might be at risk in the future, your doctor can advise you on prevention and treatment methods specific to your diagnosis.
“Varicose veins.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/varicose-veins/home/ovc-20178078
“Who Is at Risk for Varicose Veins?” National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/vv/atrisk