A study of more than 490,000 people found that the genes that code for height may also cause valves in veins to break down. This may allow blood to flow backwards and collect at certain points, resulting in varicose veins. The condition is incredibly prevalent, but shockingly little is known about the biology. There are no medical therapies that can prevent it or reverse it once it’s there.
Although previously thought to just be unsightly, recent research suggests varicose veins can be a warning sign for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a pulmonary embolism. Scientists, from Stanford University, hope their findings will lead to treatments that target the genes behind the condition. Sufferers are currently forced to undergo surgery or laser treatment.
According to the results published in the journal Circulation, height, as well as being older, smoking, female, overweight, pregnant, lack of exercise or suffering from varicose veins in the past raises a person’s risk of developing varicose veins. ‘We confirmed that having had deep vein thrombosis in the past puts you at increased risk in the future and recent research suggests that the converse appears to be true as well -having varicose veins puts you at risk of these blood clots,’ study author Dr Nicholas Leeper said.
This implies a person’s varicose vein risk can be predicted and these risk factors could be used to identify vulnerable patients, the scientists claim.
Ms Flores added: ‘We’re hoping that with this new information, we can create new therapies, as our study highlights several genes that may represent new translational targets.’
More About Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are gnarled, enlarged veins, which typically affect the legs and feet. Varicose veins are more likely to affect the elderly as age causes skin to lose elasticity and valves in veins to weaken. For many, these are just unsightly, but some may experience pain and discomfort. Varicose veins could also raise the risk of circulation problems. Common symptoms may include:
- Throbbing, cramping and swelling in the lower legs.
- Worsened pain after sitting or standing.
- Itching around veins.
- Colour changes, hardening or inflammation around the affected skin.
Varicose veins are also linked to pregnancy as gestation causes the volume of blood in the body to increase but reduces the flow from the legs to the pelvis. Obesity and a family history of the condition also increases the risk.
Varicose vein complications can include ulcers, blood clots and bleeding. People can reduce their risk of varicose veins by exercising, eating a healthy diet, avoiding high heels, elevating the legs and changing their sitting or standing position regularly.
Treatment can include compression socks or laser surgery. Fortunately, treatment usually doesn’t mean a hospital stay or a long, uncomfortable recovery. Thanks to less invasive procedures, varicose veins can generally be treated on an outpatient basis. You will need to discuss with your doctor about which treatment option is most appropriate for treating the varicose veins. If left untreated, varicose veins could lead to amputations and in severe cases, it can kill even before the person is brought to the hospital.
Wearing compression stockings all day is often the first approach to try before moving on to other treatments. They steadily squeeze your legs, helping veins and leg muscles move blood more efficiently. The amount of compression varies by type and brand. You can buy compression stockings at most pharmacies and medical supply stores. Prices vary. Prescription-strength stockings also are available.
Self-care — such as exercising, losing weight, not wearing tight clothes, elevating your legs, and avoiding long periods of standing or sitting — can ease pain and prevent varicose veins from getting worse.