Varicose Vein Risk Factors

Varicose veins are an unsightly problem for many people.  For some, they cause considerable discomfort.  In recent years, vein clinics have fortunately been able to offer an increasing number of minimally invasive treatment options.  Knowing the risk factors can help patients take preventive steps or get timely treatment.

Overview of Varicose Veins

Noticeable by their typically blue or purple hue, these vessels looked twisted and knotted.  While they can develop anywhere, they most frequently appear in the legs, according to the UCDavis Vascular Center.

Veins are blood vessels responsible for transporting blood from the legs to the heart.  When one-way valves that stop blood from flowing backward weaken over time or fail, gravity causes these vessels to thicken, twist or elongate.

People sometimes mistake varicose vessels for reticular or spider veins.  Reticular veins have a diameter between 1 and 3 millimeters.  The diameter of a spider vein is less than 1 millimeter.  By contrast, a varicose veins has a diameter of more than 3 millimeters.

Although most varicose vessels don’t present serious medical problems, they sometimes lead to inflammation and blood clots.  Common symptoms include:

  • Heavy, aching or burning feeling in the legs
  • Rashes
  • Leg sores
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Pain in a leg that gets worse after extended standing or sitting
  • Changes in color in an individual’s skin

Risk Factors

A consultation with a vein doctor will help identify whether a patient has already developed or is at elevated risk for developing varicose veins.  The Mayo Clinic has identified these risk factors:

  • Age:  Probability increases with age due to valves undergoing wear and tear.  This results in leakage, with blood flowing backward and collecting instead of moving upward.
  • Sex:  Women are at higher risk than men are.  The culprit, vascular surgeons believe, is hormonal fluctuations that occur both naturally and due to hormone replacement therapy or birth control pill usage.  Pregnant women face an above-normal risk.
  • Family history:  Many patients vein doctors treat cite relatives with varicose veins.
  • Obesity or  excess weight:  Excess weight puts additional pressure on vessels.
  • Remaining stationary:  Standing or sitting in the same spot for a long time lowers the efficiency of blood flow.  Periodically moving increases it.

Varicose Vein Treatment Options

Fortunately, a vein clinic can offer many types of treatment.  A vein doctor might advise one or more preventive steps such as losing weight, elevating the legs or wearing compression stockings.  According to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the most common other types of treatment include:

  • Sclerotherapy to destroy a vein with an injected chemical
  • Laser treatment to destroy the diseased part of a vein, causing the vessel to close and eventually absorb into the body
  • Ablation to heat vein walls and destroy the tissue
  • Phlebectomy to remove a vein using a bright light to remove the vessel with suction.