Are Your Varicose Veins a Sign of a Bigger Health Issue?

Spring is here, and with it comes the promise of weather that’s warm enough to don shorts, skirts and other leg-baring duds. Sounds great in theory, but for anyone who has spider or varicose veins, it’s also that time of year that can bring about a little bit of dread as it becomes harder and harder to hide them. Besides being a beauty issue, here are some things you might want to consider if these veins are popping up on your legs.

Which Ones Are the Problem?
While New York vein specialist Luis Navarro, MD, says small veins or spider veins are usually not an issue, bigger ones can be problematic—and they can become something that goes beyond a problem of beauty because they sometimes cause local discomfort or itching. “Spider veins are normally a sign of incompetent venous system, when the valves of the veins are not working properly to return blood back to the heart,” explains New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD.

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What Causes Them?
While no one knows exactly what causes varicose and spider veins, there are some factors that increase the likelihood of developing them. One big one: a genetic predisposition to weak vein walls and vein valves. “It usually runs in the family,” Dr. Navarro says. “Predisposition plays a big part and it’s usually one that is stronger on the mother’s side.” Adds Dr. Peredo, “Age, sex—females are more prone to develop various veins due to hormones—and having an occupation where you stand a lot all play a part.”

How Can You Prevent Them?
Dr. Navarro’s advice for trying to prevent them: For starters, stay in shape, exercise, walk and cycle. “The muscles of the calf are very important for the flow of blood from legs to heart,” he says. “Keeping a strong heart is important; it really helps the legs' appearance and the look of veins. Proper diet and proper weight are also important.” One somewhat surprising tip? “Avoid birth control pills—they weaken the veins.”

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The New Cure
Like always, painless options for treating varicose veins are on the rise. “Previously, we had to do 40 to 60 injections, and that could get uncomfortable,” Dr. Navarro says. “Now we really numb the skin—we can give you a ton of injections that you don’t feel—it’s called painless ‘cryo’ sclero.” “There are also new laser options for larger veins (where the laser probe is inserted into the vein),” Dr. Peredo adds.

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