“Varicose veins” is a term you’ve most likely heard before. While people often seem to associate varicose veins with older people or as a part of the natural aging process, they can not only also affect women in their childbearing years…but men and women of all ages, too. In fact, some estimates have suggested that as many as 15 percent of Canadian men and women (adults) have varicose veins.

Varicose veins are veins (usually on the legs and/or feet) that become swollen or enlarged. They have a dark purple or blue hue, and visible to the naked eye with an appearance that is described as lumpy, twisting or bulging – though the way varicose veins appear do differ from person to person. Appearance isn’t the only concern for individuals varicose veins, however, as they can also have symptoms such as leg pain (often described as aching or feeling heavy), as well as swelling of the feet and ankles. They occur when the valves of the veins prevent blood flow. As a result of these valves failing, the blood collects inside of the veins, making it difficult for the blood to flow upward to the heart, which is what then causes the veins to appear swollen or have that purple or blue coloured hue as described.

Along with having a family history of varicose veins, they can also be caused as a result of pregnancy, standing for long periods of time, obesity, and menopause. If you are over the age of 50 you are also at a higher risk of developing varicose veins. In order to make a diagnosis, a physician will question patients on their medical history, ask about any symptoms the patient is experiencing, as well as examine the legs while the patient is in a sitting or standing position. In some cases, the patient may be referred for an ultrasound to check the blood flow. A venogram may also be recommended, in which a special dye gets injected into the legs to help give a better view of the blood flow as X-ray images are taken. A venogram can also check for any blood clots or blockages – both of which can also cause pain in the legs.

In order to prevent varicose veins, you may be required to make certain changes to your lifestyle. If you happen to work a job that has you standing for long periods of time, take breaks and sit down. Doing certain exercises, such as going for walks or doing leg stretches can also help to improve circulation and blood flow. If you’ve already been diagnosed with varicose veins, you can implement these lifestyle changes in addition to keeping your legs elevated as much as you can. Wearing compression socks, which can be found at many drug stores, can also help to alleviate swelling associated with varicose veins.