Varicose Veins: What Causes Them and How You Should Treat Them

It’s no secret that your body uses veins to transport blood to your heart. Generally, these veins are thin and only visible in areas where our skin is thinnest (think: wrists and feet.) But when veins swell and become gnarled, they are called “varicose,” and can cause discomfort as you age. The bad news is: varicose veins—especially in women— are hard to avoid. The good news is: there are a few things you can do to keep them from getting worse once you have them, and there are treatments available if your varicose and spider veins are beginning to affect your everyday life. We caught up with Dr. Stuart Harlin, a vascular surgeon at Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston, Texas to get the 411 on varicose veins and how to deal with them. But let’s start with the basics…

What Causes Varicose Veins?

Technically, varicose veins are caused by gravity. As you age, your veins begin to stretch causing your valves to work harder and later, weaken. As a result, your veins may become engorged as blood flow weakens and causes veins to become varicose and lose their natural shape. Pregnancy also causes varicose veins as your uterus puts pressure on your pelvic veins and decreases blood flow.

Who Is At Risk Of Getting Them?

While studies do not show that women of color are at a higher risk of getting varicose veins, diabetics, people who have a history of blood clots and those who have a family history or getting them are primary candidates for suffering from varicose and spider veins.

How Can You Prevent Them From Getting Worse?

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1.Stretch every now and then. To keep the valves in your legs strong, Dr. Harlin recommends that you try incorporating exercise into your daily routine. Simple things like shifting your weight and taking the occasional walk around your office can help. Engaging the muscles in your legs helps your veins to maintain their elasticity. Harlin suggests that standing more frequently may actually be beneficial as long as you incorporate subtle exercises and stretches through out the day. “When you sit down, your legs are completely dependent—blood gets back to your legs by the valves closing and the muscles in your legs contracting like your calves to push the blood back out towards your heart, so if people are not just static—if their flex their feet and their calves standing up and moving around proves to be beneficial,” states Dr. Harlin.

2.Elevate your legs. This is particularly beneficial is you are pregnant or sit at a desk for the majority of the day. Because your blood flows against gravity to make it back to your heart, elevating your legs aids in blood flow. For pregnant women who have a lot of pressure on their legs, elevating your legs takes the pressure off your the veins in your legs to prevent issues with circulation.

3. Exercise. Dr. Harlin recommends flexing your feet and calves throughout the day, or walking to promote muscle contraction and help with blood flow. 

4. Consider alternative clothing. If you have a job that requires that you sit or stand still for long periods of time, Dr. Harlin suggests that compression wear can aid in circulation. 

While spider veins may be somewhat of an eye soar, they won’t really cause you any discomfort in the long run. Varicose veins however, if left untreated or exacerbated by lifestyle factors (diabetes, pregnancy, etc.) may lead to permanent damage such as discoloration, sores and increased discomfort in your legs and feet. Dr. Harlin suggests seeking immediate medical treatment if you begin to experience discomfort or notice discoloration, as this could be a sign of something more serious. As for myths around the cause of varicose veins, it’s perfectly safe to cross your legs, just make sure you don’t remain stagnant in that position for too long, take a walk every now and them to get your blood pumping—your legs will thank you!