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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blame Genetics for Varicose Veins

Miami ASK DR. SEAN By Dr. Sean Kenniff

Q - Does standing or sitting for a long time cause varicose veins?

A - Varicose veins are unsightly and sometimes painful bulges of the superficial veins of the legs. According to Dr. William Julien, an interventional radiologist and vein specialist in Margate, the cause is mostly due to faulty anatomy.

“The veins in the legs have one-way valves that help keep the blood from flowing backward,” he said. “Some people have defective valves, or they begin to malfunction, and that causes the blood to pool in the legs.”

When the blood pools in the legs, the pressure inside the veins of the legs is increased and the superficial veins start to bulge. Although genetics play a strong role in determining who is at most risk, varicose veins are more common in women. It’s believed hormones like estrogen and progesterone may weaken the walls of the leg veins, causing them to expand and the valves to leak. Pregnancy raises the risk, so does estrogen replacement therapy, and taking birth control pills. Age is also important and the risk gradually increases as we get older.

Genetics, hormones, and age may be the most important causes of varicose veins, but several lifestyle factors have also been linked to their development. Prolonged standing or sitting can increase the venous pressure in the legs and therefore cause varicose veins. High heel shoes, restrictive clothing, and obesity may also be contributing factors. But there are some things you can do to protect yourself, Julien says.

“Elevating your legs, and wearing compression stockings may help”, he said. “And exercise helps because the muscles squeeze the blood in the leg veins and push it back to the heart.”

Most varicose veins pose no health risk, and do not need to be treated. But new treatments, such as Endovascular Thermal Ablation, can correct the problem in the majority of cases.

Dr. Sean Kenniff covers health for WFOR CBS-4. The advice in this column is not a substitute for consulting a physician.

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