As with arteries, changes in the veins occur with increasing frequency and severity as we age. One of the most common changes in the formation of varicose veins in legs, which now ranks as the tenth leading chronic condition among people above age 64. Varicose veins are not just a cosmetic problem; they can cause serious trouble.

The functions of veins

Veins are made up of the same three layers found in smaller arteries. The layers in veins are thinner and weaker since the blood pressure here is much lower than the pressure in the arteries. Therefore, there is no need for thick strong walls in veins.

Veins also tend to be larger in diameter than arteries and have a greater ability to expand outward, allowing veins to be a reservoir for storing blood. The inner layer has a smooth lining that prevents blood clots, and the middle layer contains smooth muscle that regulates the diameter. When the veins dilate, they can hold a considerable amount of blood.

Alternating contraction and relaxation of the muscles near the veins, such as occurs during exercise, helps the circulation of blood greatly. During contraction, muscles widen and press on the veins, forcing blood to move along the veins. During relaxation, the muscles become thinner, allowing the veins to expand and fill with blood. As you can see, one more time exercise comes to the rescue, promoting the blood to flow in the veins.

What are Varicose Veins?

A varicose vein is a vein that has developed a much larger diameter than normal because blood has accumulated in the vein, stretching it outward. If the affected vein is stretched frequently and for prolonged periods, it loses its elasticity and remains permanently distended.

Varicose Veins in legs

Varicose veins frequently develop in the legs. Conditions that promote varicose veins in legs are:

  1. Standing still for long periods of time
  2. Sitting in a posture that reduces circulation
  3. Wearing tight clothing
  4. Having certain diseases such as congestive heart failure

Varicose veins are also found inside the abdomen. Cirrhosis of the liver is a common cause of varicose veins in the digestive system.

Problems caused by varicose veins

Varicose veins can cause several problems, some of them quite serious

  1. Affected veins close to the skin can be cosmetically undesirable.
  2. Veins that remain engorged with blood for long periods or become inflamed can be very painful.
  3. Varicose veins can become sites of infection and they can bleed. Bleeding is the main problem when a person has varicose veins from cirrhosis.
  4. Blood flow through varicose veins is fairly sluggish and the blood tends to clot. A stationary blood clot inside a blood vessel is called a thrombus and as in arteries, a thrombus in a vein can block blood flow.

  5. Sometimes, the blood propels the thrombus in the vein which can move to the heart or the lungs. In both instances, the outcome can be fatal or can cause serious infections.

How to prevent or slow the damage caused by varicose veins?

Since varicose veins cause such a variety of undesirable and serious problems, slowing or preventing their formation seems a necessity. Some measures that we can take to this effect are:

  1. When possible, if you stand or sit for long periods of time, try to move about or change position frequently.
  2. When standing, tense and relax your leg muscles periodically; it can help pump blood out of the veins.
  3. Wear support stockings or tights that apply an even pressure over the legs to prevent the expansion of veins.
  4. Elevate your legs for short periods; it will allow accumulated blood to drain out blood out of the veins.
  5. Avoid sitting for long periods with your legs crossed or in a tightly bent position; it inhibits blood flow out of the veins.
  6. Avoid clothing that is tight in the upper regions of the legs for the same reasons.
  7. Avoid excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages; this is the most common cause of liver cirrhosis.

Final words

If you have a weak heart or you are developing congestive heart failure, you need to pay particular attention to these suggestions. Although varicose veins in legs may worry you as cosmetically undesirable, the consequences of this condition go much further than just a cosmetic problem. Do not overlook it.


I am Andy Carpenter and I would start by saying that I have a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition Science conferred by California State University, Los Angeles and that I am certified as a Registered Dietitian.

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