A lot of people get varicose veins — in fact, almost a quarter of all adults, according to an article published by the American Heart Association. These swollen, twisted veins usually develop in the legs when there’s damage to the structure of the veins themselves.
Veins send blood back to the heart, but in the legs, they have to fight against gravity. To keep the blood going in the right direction, your leg veins have one-way valves that close behind the blood as it flows upward. When those valves weaken or suffer damage, blood can start to pool and weaken the vein walls. Most of the time, this is what causes varicose veins to develop.
Varicose veins usually aren’t dangerous, but they can cause some discomfort. If you’re concerned, knowing the risk factors for varicose veins can help you find opportunities for prevention and management.
1. Family History
Family history significantly increases a person’s chances of developing varicose veins. One study showed that if one parent has varicose veins, daughters have a 62% chance and sons have a 25% chance of developing them as well. When both parents are affected, the risk goes up to 90% for both genders.
You can’t change your family history, but you can be aware of it. When you know you’re more likely to develop varicose veins, you can look for ways to reduce your risk.
The older you are, the more likely it is you’ll develop varicose veins. As a person ages, the tissues in their body begin to weaken, and that includes walls and valves of leg veins. One study showed that the prevalence of varicose veins increased from 22% at age 40 to 41% at age 60. Some experts say that varicose veins are even more common, affecting half of all adults 50 and up.
Women are statistically more likely to develop varicose veins than men. Scientists believe the culprit may be the hormones that women’s bodies release during pre-menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. These hormones can relax and weaken vein walls.
4. Hormone Therapies
For the same reasons, hormone therapy can also increase a woman’s risk. According to some studies, women may be more likely to develop varicose veins if they take hormone replacement therapy to treat menopause symptoms. Some experts also say that taking birth control pills can increase your risk.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take birth control or other hormone-based therapies. It just means that you should discuss varicose veins and other treatment risks with your doctor. Varicose veins usually won’t harm your overall health, so the answer may be to mitigate the increased risk in other ways.
Aside from its impact on hormone balance, pregnancy can also increase a person’s risk of varicose veins because of the extra weight from the developing baby. Up to 20% of all pregnant women will develop varicose veins, and the risk increases with each subsequent pregnancy a woman experiences.
The good news is that wearing compression stockings during pregnancy can reduce your risk of getting varicose veins. And if you do develop them, they’ll probably go away after you give birth.
6. Excess Weight
Being overweight or obese can also put pressure on the leg veins, increasing your risk of varicose veins. Even being moderately overweight can make our veins work harder, and the effect compounds the more weight you carry. In fact, according to the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, obese women have three times the risk of varicose veins than a thin woman.
The upside of this statistic is that you don’t have to “get skinny” to bring your risk down. If any excess weight increases your risk, then any loss of that extra weight decreases your risk. The other good news is that exercise and healthy eating both help your veins stay healthy, so it’s a win even if your weight stays the same.
7. Prolonged Sitting or Standing
When you sit or stand for long periods of time, your blood doesn’t flow as well and you’re at a higher risk of developing varicose veins. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest risk factors to do something about. If your job requires you to sit or stand a lot, or if your lifestyle doesn’t encourage physical activity, make time to walk around. Walking helps activate the calf muscles and improves blood flow in the legs.
You can even make a point of moving your feet, ankles and legs while you sit at your desk. Try flexing and pointing your foot like you’re pressing down on the gas pedal and releasing. You can also make circles with your ankle or pretend that you’re signing your name with your foot. This helps draw the blood through the leg and prevents pooling.
8. Tight Clothing
This is another risk factor that’s easy to manage. Wearing tight clothing, especially around the waist or legs, can interfere with your circulation and become one of your risk factors for varicose veins. Luckily, all you have to do to bring your risk back down is to make sure that all of your clothes fit comfortably. If your pants or skirts are too tight, replace them or use waistband extenders.
When you smoke, the chemicals in a cigarette constrict your blood vessels, interfering with circulation. Quitting smoking helps your blood flow more freely and, in turn, reduces your risk of developing varicose veins. Plus, it will reduce your risk of many other serious medical conditions, such as cancer and lung disease.
How to Prevent Varicose Veins
The best way to prevent varicose veins is to promote good circulation. That means staying active, maintaining a healthy weight and staying away from clothes that cut off your blood flow. And of course, eat a healthy diet and stay away from cigarettes. Using gradient compression stockings can also slow down the development of vein disease.
You may still have risk factors that you can’t control, but you can reduce your risk overall by controlling what it’s possible to control.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to prevent varicose veins, a vein specialist can help. Use My Vein Treatment’s vein specialist locator tool to find an expert near you today.