What Causes Varicose Veins?

What Causes Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are a common vascular condition, characterised by enlarged, twisted veins that appear purple or blue in colour, that have bulged and become visible. Any vein that is close to the skin's surface (superficial) can become varicose, however varicose veins most commonly affect the veins in the legs.

How do varicose veins form?

Varicose veins can develop when the valves in veins weaken or get damaged. Unlike arteries, which carry blood from the heart to various parts of the body, veins have the critical task of returning blood from the body back to the heart. This journey is a bit challenging for veins, as they must work against gravity.

To return blood to the heart, the veins in the legs rely on muscle contractions in the lower legs to effectively act as pumps, while the elastic walls of the veins help the upward movement of blood. Small valves within the veins play a crucial role in this process, they open to allow blood to flow toward the heart and then close to prevent backward flow. However, when these valves become weakened or damaged, blood can reverse its course, leading to the accumulation of blood in the veins and, consequently, the stretching or twisting of these veins. This condition is commonly referred to as varicose veins.

What causes varicose veins in legs?

In the same way any varicose vein is formed, varicose veins in the legs develop when the valves within the veins in legs weaken or sustain damage. Damage to the valves contributes to causing the blood to flow backward and pool in the veins, causing them to stretch, twist, and become varicose.

Varicose veins are more common in the legs because the veins in the lower parts of the body have to work against gravity and pressure to return blood to the heart. This increased gravitational pressure, combined with weakened vein walls, genetic factors, hormonal changes, and prolonged periods of standing or sitting, makes the veins in the legs more susceptible to dilation and the development of varicose veins. The distance from the heart to the legs also contributes, as blood must travel a further, increasing the risk of circulation issues in the lower limbs.

Who is at risk of suffering from varicose veins?

Varicose veins can affect anyone, but some factors increase the risk of developing this condition. 


The risk of varicose veins tends to increase with age, as vein walls and valves naturally lose elasticity over time.


Women are more likely than men to develop varicose veins, partly due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause. Research suggests this may be because female hormones tend to relax the walls of veins, making the valves more prone to leaking.

Family History

Genetics can play a significant role in the development of varicose veins, if you have a family history of varicose veins, you are at a higher risk.


Excess weight places additional pressure on the veins, especially in the legs, increasing the risk of varicose veins developing.

Prolonged Standing or Sitting

Jobs or activities that involve long periods of standing or sitting can affect proper blood circulation, contributing to the development of varicose veins.

Are varicose veins hereditary? 

Varicose veins can be hereditary; if your parents or grandparents have had varicose veins, you are more likely to develop them as well. Genetic factors can influence the makeup of your vein walls and valves, making you more susceptible to developing varicose veins. 

What are the symptoms of varicose veins?

Varicose veins can present a range of symptoms and is a sign of vein disease that should not be ignored.

The most common symptom is the visibility of varicose veins; they are enlarged, twisted veins that are often visible through the skin, typically purple or blue in colour. Some people experience aching, throbbing, or a sense of heaviness in the affected area, especially after prolonged standing or sitting or general discomfort or a feeling of fullness.

Varicose veins are known to cause swelling in the lower legs or ankles, particularly at the end of the day and they also may become itchy for some people. Over time, skin changes may develop, such as darkening (hyperpigmentation) or the formation of open sores (venous ulcers) in severe cases, although this is rare.

It's important to note that not everyone with varicose veins experiences symptoms. For some individuals, varicose veins are primarily a cosmetic concern, while others may find them painful and uncomfortable. If you have concerns about your varicose veins or experience any of these symptoms, it's advisable to speak to a vascular specialist. You can book an initial consultation to speak with one of our specialists for a diagnosis and more information by clicking the link below:

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