Q: Iíve noticed that varicose veins run in my family and am scared that Iíll end up with them as well. What causes this and is there anything I can do to prevent them?
A: Many women ask me this question, including my own grandmother.
Hereís a simple anatomy lesson:
Inside each vein thereís a one-way valve that opens to let blood flow through and then shuts to keep blood from flowing backward. If the valves are weak or damaged, blood can back up and pool in your veins causing the veins to swell. This weakens the walls of the vein. When the walls of the veins are weak, they lose their normal elasticity. This makes the walls of the veins longer and wider and causes the flaps of the valves to separate.
When the valve flaps separate, blood can flow backward through the valves. The back flow of blood fills the veins and stretches the walls even more. As a result, the veins get bigger, swell, and often get twisted as they try to squeeze into their normal space. This is what causes the spidery appearance of the veins on your legs.
You may be at higher risk for weak vein walls due to increasing age or a family history of varicose veins. You also may be at higher risk if you have increased pressure in your veins due to excess weight.
Trying to not spend hours on end standing on your feet without moving around (which allows the blood flow in the legs to slow and pool) may help.† You might also consider wearing pressure support stockings which can help prevent the pooling of blood in the veins.
Dr. Brent Ridge is the health expert for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. You can call and ask him a question live every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Eastern on Sirius Satellite Radio, Channel 112 (1.866.675.6675). You can also follow along as he learns to grow his own food and raise goats on his farm in upstate New York by visiting www.beekman1802.com.