What causes varicose veins?
Leg veins normally allow blood to flow in an upward direction towards the heart. This flow is aided by the pumping action of the foot and calf muscles (usually when walking).
Valves within the veins allow blood to flow upward to the heart but usually close and prevent blood flowing backward toward the feet under gravitational force.
Varicose veins develop when these valves stop working properly. As a result, blood flows in a reverse direction in the veins, called an incompetent vein. This leads to higher pressure within the veins due to pooling of the blood and consequently, varicose veins develop.
Varicose veins can occur in both men and women, but more frequently in women. Most commonly there is a family history of varicose veins through a weakness in the vein wall or vein valves.
In women, pregnancy is a major causative factor. This is due to the hormone, oestrogen, which relaxes vein walls, increased circulation to supply the mother and baby, and also the enlarged uterus. As the baby grows, return of blood from the legs os restricted, and allowing pooling and increased vein pressures in the pelvis and legs.
Standing for long periods such as in occupations like nursing, hairdressing, and hospitality are also thought to play a role in the development of varicose veins. Obesity and trauma may also be causative factors.
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