What causes varicose veins? | Lakeshore Vein & Aesthetics Clinic

What causes varicose veins?

Venous disease explained by Dr. Bentley

Dr. Janna Bentley (Medical Director) and staff treat all types and sizes of varicose veins and spider veins at their Kelowna, BC, clinic.

Credentials & Qualifications: Phlebology is the area of medicine relating to vein health and treatment, and Dr. Janna Bentley is the President of the Canadian Society of Phlebology. So your vein assessment and treatment is delivered and/or overseen by one of Canada's top vein physicians and her team of well-trained, specialized vein nurses.

What Causes Varicose Veins?

Brief Educational Video by Dr. Bentley

The Details: Spider & Varicose Veins: "WHY ME?"

People often ask, "Why me?" when it comes to their spider and/or varicose veins. These annoying entities are not only unappealing to look at, but can cause significant pain and seriously impact your quality of life. In fact, they are common (estimates are as high as 60% in the general adult population in North America), and become even more so as we age. There are two main reasons why we develop varicose and spider veins: with respect to their physical makeup and according to risk factors we all may or may not have.

Physically, veins function to return blood to the heart. The veins in our legs have a big job to do as they are often working against gravity to move blood uphill when we are standing. Our calf muscles act as pumps. As you walk, your muscles squeeze the veins, milking the blood inside them upwards. You may have heard of soldiers standing at attention for hours at a time and passing out. To prevent this they are told to pump their calf muscles every once in a while to keep blood from pooling in their legs. As a result of the pumping action they keep blood flowing from their legs, back up to their hearts and ultimately to their heads, decreasing their chances of fainting.

There are one-way valves every few centimetres inside our veins that should keep the blood flow moving towards our hearts. This means that when your leg muscles are relaxed, i.e. when you’re standing still, there should be no backflow of blood. This is where things can go wrong and you start to develop spider and varicose veins. Spider veins are just smaller versions of varicose veins, albeit with some minor differences.

Diagram of Veins: Healthy vs. Varicose

Valves are made up of leaflets that should meet and completely seal off the vein when they are closed. The valves are forced open with muscle contraction and close when our muscles relax. If the leaflets don’t quite meet, there is a constant trickle backwards of blood inside the vein. Any point in the vein below the leaky valve is now vulnerable and begins to change as it has to deal with more blood from the backflow.

In response to the backflow and added volume of blood, our veins dilate, twist and turn, and become thicker and more obvious to the naked eye. We start to notice them as they are unattractive and can begin to cause discomfort, especially in hot weather and after being on our feet all day. Besides their unappealing look, spider and varicose veins can cause significant throbbing, aching, heavy, and tired feelings in our legs. There are other associations as well including: restless legs, night cramps, itching, swelling, darkening of the surrounding skin, ulcer formation, and inflammation of the veins themselves (thrombophlebitis).

VARICOSE VEIN RISK FACTORS

  • Heredity: If you mother had varicose or spider veins, then chances are good you will develop them too.
  •  Prolonged Standing: Gravity affects the volume and pressure of blood in the lower limbs.
  •  Gender: Women are more likely to develop vein reflux disease, partly as a result of the affect female hormones have on the structure of vein walls.
  •  Pregnancy: An increase in blood pressure during pregnancy can place extra pressure and stress on the walls of the vein.
  •  Age: Tissue loses elasticity as we age, resulting in weakened vein walls and valves.
  •  Obesity: A substantial weight gain can increase blood pressure and stress on vein walls.

Q & A with Dr. Bentley: "Can I get rid of my varicose veins with natural home remedies or lifestyle changes?"

Dr. Janna Bentley: "There is no research to support any claims for any home remedies, herbal/natural remedy OR DIY therapy that they can reduce or "erase" varicose veins, and this is supported by my years of experience in treating all types of varicose veins. Lifestyle changes can't prevent varicose veins (since it is largely genetics) but certainly can improve symptoms: healthy eating, good sleeping habits, stop smoking, regular exercise etc."  

Read more by Dr. Bentley regarding venous disease/treatment: Sclerotherapy and Venous Disease Questions and Answers (Q&A)

Vein Treatment Options

The vein treatments vary according to patient needs and include the following: injection treatments called sclerotherapy (either ultrasound-guided or under direct visualization), Varithena injections (think of it as high-powered, premium sclerotherapy), laser vein treatments for spider veins/telangiectasis (the small thread-like veins near the surface), endovenous laser treatment (EVLT) and the new VenaSeal. Either EVLT or VenaSeal can effectively replace surgical stripping and tying off (aka ligation) of severely varicosed veins.

With both EVLT (similar to ELVES) and VenaSeal, there is minimal down-time; both are performed under local anesthetic in the clinic (an accredited facility). Patients can resume their normal activities the very next day. Studies have shown that EVLT is much preferred over surgical stripping for numerous reasons (see more details in the EVLT tab above). Some studies also show an increased effectiveness for endovenous laser treatment (EVLT being 98% effective vs surgical vein stripping is only 85%).

Book a free, safe and private assessment of your varicose veins and learn more about treatment options: book a consult at Lakeshore Vein & Aesthetics Clinic.

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