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Causes and Treatment of a Common Medical Issue

As people age, their systems begin to work differently. Hormones change. Joints and ligaments give way. Skin sags. Changes do not necessarily wait to approach people because of age, though. Often life circumstances, family background and developed habits can slow down or speed up the changes that come with age. One issue that almost one in four adults, almost half of adults over the age of fifty, and even occasionally a few young people experience is varicose veins. The causes, symptoms and treatment of this cosmetic and sometimes painful phenomenon are varied. There are also ways to reduce the occurrence of this issue.

What They Are

Varicose and spider veins are related experiences. Spider veins are smaller and close to the surface. They spread out in a branching or web-like pattern. Varicose veins are larger, more bulging and may appear twisted into knots. Both are a blue or red/purple color. The bottom line cause of the emergence of these misshaped veins is weakened valves inside veins that are meant to prevent blood from flowing the wrong direction in the vein. While varicose veins can occur in the face and legs, they most often occur in the legs. People's calves work to help veins fight gravity as they transport blood back to the heart. Sometimes a weakening of the calf muscles will occur, known as sarcopenia, reducing the amount of help the calf muscles provide to vein work. Other times, as in aging or with a hereditary issue, vein valves are weakened and allow blood to move backward and pool within the vein, resulting in the discolored maze of veins under the skin.


While age or heredity most often plays a part in the onset of distorted veins, other causes can also contribute to the experience of unsightly veins. Hormonal changes due to puberty, pregnancy or menopause is a common cause of this phenomenon. Lack of movement over a long period of time, insufficient exercise and excess weight are other causes. Women experience vein issues more often than men.


There are several vein treatments used depending on the severity of the issue in patients. The least invasive and simplest treatment is reduction through exercise, leg elevation and using compression tights. On smaller veins, doctors can use sclerotherapy, a chemical injection into the vein. Another moderately invasive method of treatment is electrodessication, which uses electrical current or a laser. Finally, there is surgery by way of ligation and stripping or phlebectomy.

While complete prevention of unsightly veins may not be possible, there are practical ways to reduce one's chance of developing them. Exercise addresses both the loss of muscle in the calves as people age and the obesity and long-term lack of movement that contribute to the onset of the issue. People who know they are prone to developing this problem might consider wearing compression tights and flat heeled shoes rather than high heels. A diet that is fibrous and low salt is also helpful. These ideas help individuals control their vein health.