Varicose veins are large, abnormal blood vessels visible on the skin surface. They almost always affect the legs and often appear as bulging, twisted blue veins. Many theories exist for why varicosities occur in veins, but the consensus is that weak vein walls and valves are the main cause. Inside your larger veins are valves that allow blood to flow toward the heart, but, open to prevent backward flow of blood toward the feet (reflux).
If the valves don’t function properly, excess blood will remain in the veins, raising the pressure and causing them to swell and distend. Some veins will enlarge enough to weaken the walls and become varicose. Though rarely dangerous, varicose veins can often cause symptoms of aching, weakness or heaviness.
The Role of Genetics
Heredity is one of the most important risk factors for developing varicose veins and spider veins. Your risk of developing varicose veins is increased if a close family member has the condition, suggesting a relationship between genetics and the onset of varicose veins.
So just how do genetics affect your veins?
• Some people can inherit problems such as having too few valves or valves that do not function properly.
• Some people may be born with abnormalities of the vein wall. The resulting weakness may predispose the valves to separate and become leaky.
Some groups of people can be easily identified as inheriting varicose veins. Varicose veins during pregnancy are more likely to affect women who have a family history of varicose veins. Varicose veins that occur in younger patients (20s or even younger) are also believed to be inherited in most cases.
If you know that close family members have had varicose veins and that you already have a strong genetic predisposition for varicose veins, you can take steps to prevent their onset.
• Lifestyle changes – Take measures to keep your legs strong and in good shape. Walking and exercising helps promote venous circulation by pumping the blood out of your legs and back up to your heart. Adopting a healthy diet can be helpful in keeping weight off and preventing varicose veins. Eating a low-salt diet helps reduce water retention and swelling.
• Compression stockings – Wearing medium, graduated-compression stockings daily, especially if you spend a lot of time on your feet, will do wonders at preventing the development and/or progression of varicose veins.
• See your doctor and get treatment – Get an evaluation to see if you have venous insufficiency. Endovenous ablation is a minimally invasive office-based treatment that is very effective in relieving superficial venous insufficiency. You can check out my recent blog on The Latest in Vein Treatment Technology for more information.
For additional information regarding varicose veins, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.
On March 21, 2018, Emory Healthcare will be hosting a Veins Q&A on their Facebook page. Be on the lookout to submit any questions you may have for our Vein Center specialists!
To learn more about the Emory Vein Center, please visit www.emoryhealthcare.org/veincenter.
About Dr. Rheudasil
J. Mark Rheudasil, MD, graduated magna cum laude from Abilene Christian University in Texas and he earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas in 1983. He completed a general surgery internship and residency program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and also completed a fellowship in vascular surgery at Emory University in 1989.
Dr. Rheudasil is a board-certified vascular surgeon. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a member of the Society for Vascular Surgery and the American Venous Forum. He is also a member the Southern Association for Vascular Surgery and is a past President of the Georgia Vascular Society and the Atlanta Vascular Society.
Dr. Rheudasil has published articles in several medical journals including The Journal of Vascular Surgery, American Surgeon and The Journal of the Medical Association of Georgia. He has lectured at the regional and national level on a variety of topics in vascular surgery.