Varicose and Spider Veins

I Thought Only Older Women Get Them

It was long thought that varicose veins were the problem of older women and that they just came along with age and standing on your feet for too many hours on concrete floors. The fact of the matter is that varicose veins can occur in young women, and often do, as well as in older women. The large, twisted and knotted veins are blue in color and bulge from the back of the leg, rising beneath the surface of the skin. They can be painful and they certainly are unsightly.

Spider veins are similar to varicose veins only much smaller in diameter. They are often red or blue and sit very close to the surface of the skin, closer than varicose veins sit. They can look like tree branches or bruises on the legs or on the face, covering a small or larger area.

What Causes Varicose Veins?

Both varicose and spider veins are caused by the backup of blood in the veins. The heart pumps oxygen-filled blood to the entire body. Arteries carry the blood from the heart to the body and veins carry the oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart. The muscles in the legs act as pumps, squeezing the blood back toward the heart from the lower extremities. The veins have valves that perform like flaps and their job is to prevent the blood from flowing backwards as it is being forced up the legs. If a valve weakens, blood can back up in the vein it is being pumped through and pool. This is called venous insufficiency. The pooling blood stretches and enlarges the vein and it becomes varicose. Spider veins can be caused by this same process as well as by hormonal changes, sun exposure and hereditary factors.

At least half of American women and about 45% of American men have some sort of problem with their veins with one out of two people aged 50 plus suffer with the condition.

So Many Factors To Consider

There are many factors that can increase the chance of a person developing varicose veins. Getting older is one of them as well as having family members with the condition, as it does seem to be hereditary. Hormonal changes triggered by puberty, pregnancy, and menopause as well as taking hormones in the form of birth control pills or medications containing estrogen and progesterone also contribute to an increased risk of both varicose and spider veins. Pregnancy increases the risk significantly because there is a huge increase in blood supply in the body during this time and the increased volume of blood can cause the veins to enlarge. As the uterus expands and grows it puts added pressure on the veins. The result is often hemorrhoids which are varicose veins in the anus and vagina. Obesity, leg injuries, and standing are other contributors. A fair-skinned person runs the risk of spider veins on their face from sun exposure.

Reducing the Risk

Sometimes spider veins and varicose veins can be avoided and sometimes they can't. But, it is possible to reduce the risks and ease some of the discomfort of varicose veins by exercising regularly and controlling weight. Wearing sunscreen can keep spider veins on the face at bay. Keeping the legs strong with leg exercises, not standing or sitting for long periods at a time, eating a diet low in salt and high in fiber and wearing support stockings are all effective ways of easing the discomfort of varicose veins.

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