By Rebecca Ostrom for Veins1
Researchers have reached new conclusions about what factors place people at risk for varicose veins. A recent study of over 1500 participants, conducted in Edinburgh, found that genetics, sex, and height are all factors related to the incidence of varicose veins, also called varices.
Varices are swollen veins near the skin’s surface. They occur when valves in the veins of the leg are weak or nonfunctional. If the valves and veins can’t push the blood up to the heart, gravity takes over and blood pools in the legs. The leaking blood overwhelms the small veins and capillaries near the skin’s surface, and the swollen superficial veins produce a purple spiderweb effect. They are most often caused by faulty valves near the groin and the back of the knee.
In addition to the abovementioned risk factors, pregnancy (especially multiple pregnancies) and abdominal tumors can also bring about varicose veins. Varicose veins are common, affecting more than 20% of the population. Most research has found that women are more likely to suffer from varices than men and that they are more common in older patients.
The study, conducted by Dr. Amanda J. Lee and her colleagues at the University of Edinburgh, was in published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology. The researchers invited nearly 3,000 people from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds in the Edinburgh area to take part in this study. 699 men and 867 women, ages 18 to 64, agreed to participate. They were asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet, family history, and work, as well as questions about symptoms. After the participants completed the questionnaire, their legs were examined by medical personnel for signs of varicose veins.
The study found that those who had an immediate family member (parent or sibling) with varicose veins were more likely to show symptoms of varicose veins. Symptoms also increased with the age of the participants.
Women in this study were more likely to notice lower leg symptoms of varicose veins, including heaviness or tension, a feeling of swelling, aching, restless legs, and cramps. However, examination showed men in this study actually had a higher rate of varicose veins. Nearly 40% of the men had varices, whereas only 32% of the women exhibited varices. This is in contrast with popular belief and other studies which show that women are about 50% more likely to have varicose veins.
The study also shows a correlation between height and weight and varices. Those who are taller or obese have an increased prevalence of varicose veins.
Also contrary to common perceptions about varicose veins, the researchers found that lifestyle factors including smoking, diet, and mobility at work (sitting or standing for long periods) did not have a significant impact on the prevalence of varices.