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What are the main causes of varicose veins?

Varicose veins are unsightly large and twisted veins that can ruin the smooth appearance of the skin on your lower legs. Varicose veins are common, affecting about 35 percent of adults in the United States, according to the American Society of Vascular Surgeons. That means millions of people suffer from varicose veins. But what causes these vein problems?

About Vein Health and Varicose Veins

Veins are part of the circulatory system that transports blood to all the different parts of your body. Arteries carry blood from the heart to the organs and tissues, while veins carry blood back to your heart.

Gravity helps arteries move blood down to your feet, but gravity makes it hard for the veins to carry blood back upwards towards your heart. The walls of healthy veins are elastic, and the springiness of the veins helps push the blood along to fight the forces of gravity.

Tiny valves in healthy veins open and close at just the right time to trap blood in small segments of the vein in between heartbeats. These valves prevent blood from flowing downwards towards your feet and accumulating in your lower legs.

Veins can lose their elasticity over time, though, and the valves can fail. The unhealthy veins allow blood to flow backward, or reflux, into the veins of the lower legs. The accumulation of blood presses against the veins, which respond by bloating and twisting. Affected veins lying near the surface of the skin appear as varicose veins.

Main causes of varicose veins

Many factors can contribute to the development of varicose veins. The most common causes of varicose veins include:


Your risk of varicose veins increases as you grow older. Years of opening and closing cause wear and tear on the valves; in time, the valves fail and allow blood to flow backward into the lower legs.


Women are more likely to develop varicose veins than men because female hormones relax the walls of your veins, so they are less elastic.


The volume of blood inside a woman’s body increases during pregnancy to support the growing fetus. The extra fluid enlarges the veins to cause the appearance of varicose veins.

Family history

You are at a greater risk of developing varicose veins if other members of your family had these vein problems.


Carrying excess weight around puts additional pressure on veins.

Sitting or standing for too long

Flexing your calf muscles help stimulate circulation and promote the opening and closing of valves. Sitting or standing too long prevents blood from circulating correctly.

Once varicose veins develop, the only treatment may be vein surgery. Contact your vein surgeon for more information on varicose veins, their causes and risk factors, and treatment for varicose veins.

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