About one in three adults in the United States have varicose veins. But these distorted, bulging viscosities aren’t just a cosmetic issue; often, they’re one of the first outward signs of venous disease, also known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
As a board-certified general surgeon in Glendale, Arizona, who specializes in varicose vein treatment at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy, Dr. Johnny Serrano knows that you can’t always prevent varicose veins, but you can minimize their severity and prevent their progression.
How? Learning your personal risk factors for CVI —which happen to be the same factors that put you at risk of developing varicose veins — and knowing how to mitigate that risk.
Understanding venous insufficiency
To keep deoxygenated blood flowing efficiently from your body back to your heart, your veins contain a series of one-way valves. Unfortunately, vein valves aren’t completely impervious to strain, damage, or dysfunction — especially those in your lower extremities.
In fact, vein valves do generally weaken with age, just like any other part of your body, and they also weaken under pressure. This is exactly why leg veins are most likely to become varicose; their valves must often work against gravity to keep blood moving efficiently toward your heart.
Venous insufficiency develops when vein valves no longer work properly. Instead of flowing through them at a normal, continuous rate, blood pools behind the weak, dysfunctional, or damaged valves and exerts pressure on the surrounding vessel wall.
Over time, this ongoing, localized buildup of blood and intravascular pressure causes the affected area of the vein to swell, bulge, twist, and distort, or become varicose.
Key risk factors for CVI and varicose veins
While anyone can develop CVI and associated varicose veins, certain risk factors make both problems more likely. Venous disease and varicose vein risk factors fall into four categories:
You’re more likely to develop CVI and varicose veins if you have a family history of the problem, because genetic disposition increases your likelihood of inherited vein valve problems. Being tall is another inherited risk, as vein valves are under more pressure in longer legs.
Acquired risk factors for CVI include weight gain and advancing age. Being overweight elevates your CVI/varicose vein risk by increasing blood pressure within your veins; getting older boosts your risk simply because your vein valves are aging, too.
Three lifestyle habits or patterns boost your chances of developing CVI. All three — smoking (tobacco use), prolonged sitting, and standing for long stretches — can damage your vessels or increase the pressure within them, setting the stage for varicose veins.
Being in a “high-estrogen state” makes you more susceptible to developing CVI and varicose veins. At higher levels, estrogen can undermine vein valve function. Female gender is a strong CVI/varicose vein risk factor by itself, and pregnancy intensifies that risk.
Putting it all together
While it only takes one significant risk factor — like getting older — to lead to the development of CVI and varicose veins, having multiple risk factors makes the outcome far more likely. Aging women have the highest risk of venous disease, especially those who smoke, sit a lot, work on their feet, or have had multiple pregnancies.
Reducing your CVI and varicose vein risk
While you can’t change a genetic predisposition to venous disease, your advancing age, or your female gender, there are still plenty of ways to support optimum lower extremity circulation and minimize your risk of developing vein problems. Everyone’s leg circulation can benefit from:
- Reaching a healthy body weight; quitting smoking
- Avoiding long stretches of sitting or standing still
- Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day
- Switching to a heart-healthy, low-sodium diet plan
If you have major accelerating risk factors for CVI and varicose veins, such as pregnancy or a job that requires you to stand for long stretches, you can improve lower extremity circulation by wearing compression stockings and taking time to elevate your legs whenever you can.
And remember, while there’s a lot you can do to improve your circulation and reduce your risk of developing CVI and varicose veins, you can’t eliminate that risk completely. If you do happen to develop an unsightly, uncomfortable, or unwanted varicose vein, we can help.
If you’re worried about venous disease or varicose veins, our expert general surgeon in Glendale, Arizona, can help. Call 623-321-5663 to learn more about the varicose vein solutions available at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy, or use our online booking feature to schedule a visit with Dr. Serrano today.