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Causes of Varicose Veins, Varicose Vein Treatments- MGH

Varicose Veins

The vascular system can be described as a vast roadway leading to and from the heart. Nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood is transported throughout the body by the arteries, and is then carried back to the heart via the veins. While blood-flow through arteries is assisted by force created from the pumping of the heart, this force is much lower in the veins. Additionally, particularly in the legs, blood-flow in the veins must progress upwards, against the force of gravity. To overcome these difficulties, the veins contain a series of specialized one-way valves that open to allow the blood to flow upwards and then shut to keep the blood from flowing back downwards towards the feet.

Varicose veins are almost always caused by valve deterioration in the veins of the leg. Varicose veins tend to occur in superficial veins, those veins closer to the surface of the skin. They can occur anywhere, but are most often found on the back of the calf or on the inside of the leg or in the groin area. When the valves in veins do not function properly, the blood leaks or flows backwards. Over time, this puts pressure on the veins, causing them to stretch and dilate.

Varicose veins are not uncommon - approximately 30% of people will develop them. Varicose veins are thought to occur more frequently in women than in men. Factors that increase the pressure on the legs can increase people's chance of developing varicose veins. For example, people who are overweight or who spend much of their day standing are more likely to develop varicose veins. Varicose veins sometimes appear during pregnancy. Age and heredity are also risk factors for developing varicose veins.

The danger of varicose veins is that the backflow of blood may result in the formation of a blood clot, a condition called deep vein thrombosis.


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