Varicose veins are enlarged or expanded (dilated) veins that result from defects in the structure and function of valves in the veins. They can be classified as primary or secondary. Primary varicose veins originate in veins that are close to the skin's surface (superficial). Secondary varicose veins originate in deep veins, causing enlargement of veins close to the skin's surfaceIncidence and Prevalence
Varicose veins are two to three times more common in women than men. Incidence increases with age, and about 50% of people over the age of 50 have varicose veins. They often occur in the legs, but can develop in almost any part of the body. Approximately half of all patients who develop varicose veins have a family history of the condition.
Risk Factors and Causes
Risk factors for varicose veins include the following:
Gender (more common in women)
Hormonal factors (e.g., pregnancy, menopause)
Trauma to the lower extremities
Age is a risk factor, for both women and men. During aging, the elasticity or tone of the veins decreases, increasing the risk for dilation. Once dilation occurs, the leaflets of the valve within the vein are pulled apart by the expanding vessel walls and can no longer form a tight seal.
Women are at increased risk for developing varicose veins. The condition occurs in approximately 25% of women, compared with 15% of men. This increased risk is mostly due to hormonal (e.g., estrogen, progesterone) factors that are affected by pregnancy, menopause, and the use of birth control pills.
Heredity is an important risk factor. The chance of developing varicose veins doubles if a parent has the condition. If a family member has varicose veins, the risk for developing the condition is about 40% in female relatives and about 20 % in male relatives.
Pregnancy itself is an additional risk factor. During pregnancy, the enlarged uterus causes pressure on the veins in the pelvis, which in turn results in increased back pressure on valves within the leg veins. This increased pressure can also lead to hemorrhoids, which are varicose veins of the rectum. Commonly, varicose veins worsen with each additional pregnancy.
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