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What causes varicose veins (varicosities) in the legs?

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We don’t offer varicose vein treatments, but if you’re looking to remove spider veins or rosacea or redness in the face, we can help!

CALL / TEXT 604 580 2464

Do you hate the look of veins showing on your legs? This issue is common, and the causes can be surprising, because they’re easy to avoid. In this article, we’ll answer the question: what causes varicose veins (varicosities) in the legs?

To understand varicose veins, you need to understand the venous system

Varicose veins are caused by insufficient blood flow in your vascular system, where superficial veins are located, near your skin layer.

You see, blood has to travel from your heart, to all your extremities. Then, the blood from your body needs to go back to the heart, to get oxygenated. When you are healthy, the cycle repeats constantly.

Veins bring deoxygenated blood to your heart. Arteries carry oxygenated blood away from your heart.

But how does your body’s little ‘blood conveyor’ work, when considering the issue of gravity? Why doesn’t all your blood pool at the bottom of your legs?

This is due to a clever ‘pumping’ system in your veins. Your veins expand and contract to carry blood to your heart. They also contain one-way valves (little ‘doors,’ if you will). These valves are located at intervals in your veins, making little ‘chambers’ inside them. This ensures that during the pumping process, blood in one chamber ‘stays put’ until it can travel to the next chamber, separated by another set of valves.

And on it goes, all the way to your heart – chamber by chamber, pump by pump, with valves that open and close, constantly. This is called the “venous system.”

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Stop sitting and standing for long periods to avoid varicose veins

When you sit or stand still for too long, your veins can’t do their job very well. Other factors also affect how well veins can pump blood throughout your body. This includes body weight, pregnancy, hormonal factors, surgery, illness and genetic predispositions. Smoking doesn’t help, either.

If your superficial veins are not pumping efficiently, blood starts to coalesce in those little chambers we mentioned earlier. They start to ‘stick’ to your vein walls, and can’t move on their own anymore. 

If left untreated, the issue becomes worse, and permanent. Eventually, the veins start to stretch and twist, losing elasticity. This weakens the valves, which can’t open and close properly anymore. 

Eventually, more and more blood is gathered, creating a dilation of blood vessels, which can also start flowing backwards. We call this “venous pooling,” “venous reflux,” or “superficial thrombophlebitis.”

When pooling happens near the surface of your skin, it is usually a type of superficial blood clot (thrombosis). And, that’s what we call “varicose veins.” They’re not the dangerous kind of blood clot that causes pulmonary embolism in your lungs.

If the venous pooling happens below the skin layer, in your muscular anatomy, and is hard to see through your skin, it could be deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and this is a serious condition.

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Why varicose vein treatments are popular

The aesthetic problem with varicose veins is that the collection of blood cells is so massive, the pigments start to show through your skin. Since the oxygen content is low in this blood, it can appear as blue or purple lines on your legs.

One bit of good news is that – most of the time – varicose veins are harmless. They are merely an aesthetic issue. Sometimes they can hurt or itch, however. We should also mention that in extreme, rare cases, they can turn into bleeds or ulcers. And other times, they can indicate that deep vein thrombosis is a risk.

The other bit of good news is that, after ruling out the rare, serious conditions, doctors can treat varicose veins.

Regardless of the procedure used, the idea behind superficial vein removal is to get blood flowing through other paths in your venous system, where it can be pumped more strongly against the force of gravity. Since your venous system is made up of a very complex, interconnected web of veins (small, medium and large sized, too), this is usually quite safe to do.

In essence, if your blood can’t travel one way, it can take another route. Vein clinics can force this other blood flow route, using a variety of methods.

For example, they can collapse the visible veins, or take them out of your legs entirely.

The end result? The blood pooling stops, and the treated visible veins are gone.

Can they return? Well, new ones can form.

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Are spider veins the same as varicose veins?

Now that we’ve explained how varicose veins are formed, we can better understand the way spider veins (i.e. “telangiectasias,” or “vascular lesions”) start to show up in the body.

Spider veins are tiny webs of visible veins that are showing through the skin. They can look like a cluster of blood lines in red, blue or purple. They are actually broken capillaries, where blood cells have thickened (coagulated), due to insufficient blood flow. Capillaries, by the way, are the connectors between veins and arteries.

Visible spider veins form similarly to varicose veins, except that they happen in the smaller, irregular network of veins in your body. They can be very different in each person. They are unlike larger, superficial leg veins, which are more or less consistent in all humans.

The difference between varicose veins and spider veins is not just their size, but also where they can appear in the body.

Varicose veins are common in the legs (sometimes in the groin or arms, too). Spider veins usually appear on the legs or face. If you have varicose veins, it is likely that you will also have spider veins, which develop from a backlog of pressure in the larger veins, where the main source of pooling is happening.

Spider veins, like varicose veins, have a genetic component to their occurrence. They can also be related to hormone activity, which makes them more common in women (due to sex biology, pregnancies, birth control pills, etc.). 

People with rosacea also can form spider veins on their face, and women are more likely to develop that skin condition, too.

The good news is that spider veins are also treatable, just like varicose veins.

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What are reticular veins vs. spider veins?

Another type of vein condition, called, “reticular veins,” look similar to spider veins. They happen in the legs, but are a little wider than spider veins. They are often blue, green or purple. They can also be treated.

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Varicose veins can be mitigated and in some cases, prevented

While we can’t say that varicose veins can be prevented in all cases, we can say that there is a lot you can do to reduce the likelihood of their appearance in your legs.

Be sure to get good exercise everyday. Avoid tight clothing when sitting too long (such as tight jeans on a long flight). And, consider wearing compression stockings to help improve blood circulation.

If you do get varicose veins, thankfully, there are both surgical and non-surgical solutions to treating them. A doctor should always rule out the possibility of more serious problems in your leg veins, however.

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We don’t offer varicose vein treatments, but if you’re looking to remove spider veins or rosacea or redness in the face, we can help!

CALL / TEXT 604 580 2464

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