Varicose veins. The bane of women worldwide.
Many a young woman has looked at her grandmother’s legs to see how the years have created inevitable varicose veins.
The veins appear gnarled as enlarged tree branches protruding from the limbs. In fact, even the word varicose comes from the Latin for “twisted.” While any vein has the potential to turn varicose, we most often associate this condition with those of the leg and feet.
These young women vow not to let this to happen to them. But as they, these women discover that the years of being on their feet and pregnancy often trigger varicose veins in their own legs.
For most people, varicose and spider veins – a mild version of this condition – are simply a cosmetic concern. They look unsightly, but they pose no health threat.
However, the condition may lead not only to aching legs, but to more serious problems of the circulatory system.
So what causes varicose veins?
To answer this question, you need to understand how the circulatory system works. We all learned in high school biology class that our arteries carry blood from our hearts to the rest of our bodies – including our legs. But we also learned that transportation was only half of the process performed by the circulatory system.
The other half is bringing the blood back to the heart. Veins perform this job. And the veins in your legs must work against gravity to complete this task. Muscle contractions in your legs act as pumps, while your “toned” elastic walls of your veins help the blood get back to your heart.
The key to that paragraph is the phrase “toned elastic wall” of your veins. Your veins are naturally equipped with very tiny valves – that only work one way. They open as the blood flows towards your heart. As soon as the blood flows, these valves close again. This prevents any blood from flowing backwards.
And everything works fine while you’re young and your veins are indeed still quite elastic. As you age, however, your veins may lose this wonderful elasticity. This causes them to stretch outwards – and not to return to their original size. This situation is complicated further because those tiny valves, which operated so precisely when you were younger, may over the years weaken. These valves may not close as efficiently as they used to, allowing that backflow of blood.
This blood then sits in the veins in your legs. That’s why varicose veins became enlarged and protrude in their worst state. And if you’re wondering why the veins look so blue, it’s because the blood resting there is deoxygenated blood, which is in the process of being re-circulated.
Pregnant women are prone to the development of varicose veins due to the peculiar circulatory circumstances of this condition. Pregnancy increases the actual volume of blood in a woman’s body. But it decreases the flow of blood from the legs to the pelvis. These changes occur to support and nourish the growing fetus; unfortunately a woman’s legs are a “casualty” of this need.
For most people, varicose veins aren’t a medical condition that usually requires a doctor’s attention. If you notice a sudden swelling in your legs, though, seek immediate medical attention. This may very well be a symptom of a blood clot. Known medically as thrombophlebitis, this is a dangerous health condition.