If you've ever poked at those lumpy blue lines on your legs, you might have done so while wondering what exactly causes varicose veins. Do your daily habits cause them to crop up? Or are they completely out of your control? Well, the answers are yes and yes.
Your genetics, your age, and any bodily changes, such as a pregnancy, can lead to varicose veins. But they can also come about as a result of your lifestyle. The thing to keep in mind, however, is that they're usually nothing to worry about. "Varicose veins, on the spectrum of medical problems from mild to severe, are definitely more towards the mild end," Dr. Adam S. Gropper, MD, medical director of North Beach Vascular & Aesthetics, tells Bustle. "Sometimes they can clot, which is painful and often associated with skin discoloration, or they can bleed, which can be pretty messy. However, they can lead to rather severe problems if untreated, like leg ulcers that won’t heal."
Luckily, treating them is pretty easy. "First, one needs a careful exam by a vein specialist who is an expert in vascular disease," Gropper says. "Usually an ultrasound will be involved to assist in the diagnosis. Treatment usually includes a procedure called Endovenous Laser Ablation or EVLA, a 20 minute in-office procedure." While varicose veins can't always be prevented, there are some habits you can avoid to keep your risk to a minimum. Read on for some of the main culprits.
1. Standing For Long Periods Of Time
Standing for long periods of time, while not always easily avoided, is a habit you should keep in mind. "If your job involves a lot of standing — such as bank tellers, cashiers, or teachers — this 'static' standing is associated with the development of varicose veins," says Gropper. To keep from becoming too "static" or still, try to walk around more often throughout the day. Or take sitting breaks whenever possible.
2. Crossing Your Legs
If you've heard the rumor that crossing your legs can cause varicose veins, know that it's half true. "There is some evidence that crossing your legs can lead to spider veins, the younger sibling of varicose veins," Gropper says. This is all thanks to the pressure the position can put on your legs and hips, which can cause veins to engorge with blood, and thus become more visible.
3. Sitting All Day At Your Desk
While standing all day isn't a great idea, sitting for long periods of time isn't too healthy, either. "Normally, our leg muscles function as a pump to drive the venous blood up to the heart," Dr. Kurtis Kim, a vascular surgeon at Mercy Medical Center, tells Bustle. When we sit for too long, gravity can cause blood to pool in our legs. Without the help of muscle contractions to pump that blood back upwards, varicose veins can form.
4. Going Too Fast While Shaving
I bet you don't rush your skincare routine, so you shouldn't rush your shaving routine, either — especially if you're in the habit of nicking your skin. "If you get lots of cuts this will disrupt your blood circulation in the leg area and will put a lot of pressure on the veins to deal with the problem," say the specialists at Savana Urban Spa. "Usually, you are shaving not [in the direction of blood circulation], which is one of the main reasons for varicose veins."
5. Forgetting To Exfoliate And Moisturize Your Legs
While lotion itself won't prevent varicose veins, the act of rubbing it in certainly can help. According to Savana Urban Spa, when you are moisturizing and regularly exfoliating, you are massaging your legs and improving your blood circulation. Neglecting to do so on the regular can cause your veins to get "lazy," in a way. And, as a result, your blood may linger, much as it does when you sit for too long.
6. Not Building & Maintaining Muscle In Your Legs
If you haven't been out for a walk or jog lately, it may be time to up your exercise game. "When you start to lose leg muscle mass, gaps in the muscle open up and allow veins to dilate and varicose veins begin to appear," Gropper says. "We see this commonly in athletes after an injury causes them to reduce their exercise regimen." To keep things in working order, Gropper suggests three sessions of body weight work per week, or weight lifting exercises like dead lifts, squats, or lunges.
7. High-Impact Running
While I definitely don't want to discourage anybody from doing their fav workouts, it is important to know that some forms of exercise can lead to varicose veins over time. As Gropper says, "These exercises cause repetitive injury to the vein valves in the legs, causing them to leak, which over time causes varicose veins to develop."
8. Sitting A Certain Way At Work
As I said above, sitting all day long certainly isn't going to do your legs any favors. But you should also be paying attention to how you sit. "Some [issues] are occupational, such as prolonged standing or sitting," says varicose vein expert Dr. David Greuner. "This exacerbates the effect of gravity on our blood, causing it to pull in the legs, making the varicose veins form as the body adapts to store this pooled blood."
9. Eating An Extra Salty Diet
While there's nothing wrong with the occasional savory snack, having a lot of salt in your diet can factor into the development of varicose veins. "This causes water retention and increases pressure on the vessels," Dr. Jeremy Fenton, of Schweiger Dermatology Group, tells Bustle. If you think all those chips and pretzels might be impacting your legs, please ask your doctor for advice.
In case you needed one more reason to quit smoking, go ahead and add varicose veins to the list. As Fenton tells me, smoking can increase your chances of developing this painful issue. So, even though it's difficult, it's in your best interest to give it up.
11. Wearing High Heels
If you're all about high heels, it may be time to wear flats every once in a while in order to give your legs a break. "When you walk the calf muscle acts like a pump to have the blood actively flow in the veins," board-certified vascular surgeon Paul, E. Collier, MD, FACS tells Bustle. "In high heels, your calves are essentially frozen in that position, so the pumping action isn't able to pump the blood most effectively." And, as we now know, that stagnation can lead to the engorged veins.
While they're nothing to panic about, varicose veins can be annoying, and may even lead to health issues down the road. Doing things to prevent them is a good idea, as is pointing out any areas of concern to your doctor.
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