Varicose veins are the result of enlarged veins, and while they can affect any vein in the body, they are usually found in the legs and feet. The lower parts of the body have more pressure on them. While they often look unpleasant, they are often not damaging to your health. It is always a good idea to have them checked out by a doctor, as they can lead to other health issues.
The jobs of veins are fairly straight forward. They carry blood away from your heart and after they have worked the blood through the body, they return it to the heart to start the process over again. The veins in the bottom half of your body have to do a bit more work, as they have to go against gravity. Blood from your top half can just flow back down to the heart, but your leg muscles have to pump the blood back up. They open and close to make sure the blood does not go in the wrong direction and flow back down to your legs and feet.
As you get older the ability of the veins to pump the blood decreases. If the blood is not pumped quickly back to the heart, it can begin to accumulate, and the veins become stretched. That is when the veins become varicose. Another cause is pregnancy as there is an increase in the amount of blood in your body, but there is a decrease in the blood flow. These types of veins will normally disappear after the pregnancy is over.
There are other factors that increase your chance of developing these enlarged veins. Women are more likely to get them, and the older you are the more likely as well. Being overweight also can increase the probability you will get them. Genetics also play a role, and if there is a history of them in the family, it will increase your chances.
While for some people it will not be possible to completely prevent them, there are lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your chances. Exercise and weight control are two key factors. These can go hand in hand. A moderate cardio exercise regimen will also keep your weight under control. Diet can also be a cause of the problem. You should be aiming for a high fiber and low salt diet. The clothing you wear around your legs will also be a factor.
Resting your legs can also help, and you should avoid long periods of standing. There are some over the counter treatments that can help. Compression socks can also help the legs pump blood up to the heart. Your legs have to do most of the work when pushing blood back up to the heart, so the focus should start there although a change in diet and exercise will also be important to stay on top of.