Have you ever wondered how varicose veins develop? What causes those veins to bulge into those ugly and swollen pipes which snake above the surface of the skin? Why are they pipes of ugly worms usually found on the calves and thighs where everyone else except the tormented easily notice, to be oogled at by rude onlookers who will blame it on the afflicted for wearing revealing shorts and skirts?
Imagine two people blowing as hard as they can into the same tubular balloon at the same time, each at either end. The balloon bulges right in the middle and expands faster than it does when air is blown only through one end.
Similarly blood vessels such as veins may balloon with blood. Veins called the vena cavae collect and carry blood from veins sprawling over all parts of the body back to the heart, to be pumped into the lungs for carbon dioxide to be removed and then back to the heart via other veins and into arteries called the aorta to carry the now oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body. The veins have valves to ensure that blood flows only one way. Imagine the pressure exerted on the vena cavae by the gush of blood into them and the backlash they create. The smaller veins thus weaken through the years. When the veins malfunction, the valves do not function properly and the accumulated blood turns the veins into varicose veins.
Sometimes the veins get overworked when the body undergoes changes such as pregnancy and the body has to circulate an increased volume of blood for the mother herself and the foetus. Similarly, someone who has gained weight and hence increased his body mass would be in the same predicament. When the load gets too heavy, the tendency is for the person to reduce exercise.
An unhealthy diet also causes the blood to be loaded with fats. The blood thus flows more sluggishly and starts to clog in the veins. The valves in the veins start to malfunction and the blood flows backwards, causing veins to bulge. Do not get varicose veins confused with the much finer red and purple lined veins though as those are spider veins. Spider veins are likely the result of varicose veins as these smaller veins accumulate deoxygenated and adulerated blood that cannot be easily deposited into the bulging varicose veins.
Why are the legs often affected more than any other parts of the body? The legs happen to be below the heart, in fact, below the other parts of the body, and that means most of the time the blood from our legs have to work against the forces of nature such as air pressure, gravity and level of fitness to push upwards towards and into the heart. Moreover, the legs have to support the weight of the whole body and for those who are on their feet for many hours a day, their veins have to work harder. Some may even have to bear with aches and leg cramps especially at night.
The veins also bunch up at and above the knees, so when circulation is poor, as with a person who sits cross-legged the whole day at his job, it is likely too for the blood to flow backwards through the faulty valves in the veins in the leg regions around the knees.
For the reasons mentioned, you will thus find varicose veins predominantly in the calves and the regions above the knees.
When a woman is in her second or third trimester during pregnancy, varicose veins called hemorrhoids can also develop in the most unthinkable regions - the vagina and the regions around the anus. This is due to the additional discharge of blood from the uterus into the veins to circulate blood to and from the foetus and the weight of the uterus suppressing the blood flow beneath it.
How often do varicose veins affect people? Statistics have shown that figures differ from country to country from 5% to 10%. Women, however, are more often affected than men. 50% of the people who are over the age of fifty will have developed varicose veins, likely due to their accumulated health problems and slowing down of movement.
It is therefore good for people in sedentary jobs and pregnant women to exercise more, perhaps by walking daily, swimming, and to elevate their legs while lying down or sitting, to improve blood circulation in the legs. It is also advised that ladies cross their legs less and wear loose clothes so that blood circulates better around the knees. A healthy diet coupled with exercise and sufficient rest will go a long way to keep the development of varicose veins at bay.