A: When the tiny valves that regulate blood circulation in the legs malfunction, varicose veins result. Doctors aren’t sure why some people and not others are predisposed to this condition. Hereditary and, apparently, hormonal factors are at work: “varicosities” run in families, and of the more than 40 million Americans affected, women outnumber men four to one.

Prolonged standing or inactivity can cause varicose veins in people genetically inclined. So can strain in the abdominal region —— from repeated heavy lifting, pregnancy, or constipation. Age also comes into play, as the skin becomes less elastic and cannot support veins as firmly.

When you are standing, the heart pumps blood through the arteries to the legs with assistance from gravity. But muscle contractions are required to recirculate blood against gravity up through the veins, which lie just under the skin as well as deep in the legs. Without these contractions, blood accumulates, distending veins and skin into a network of lumps.

If you’re prone to varicose veins, you may be able to head them off by avoiding prolonged sitting or standing in one position. Don’t stay put —— move around. ‘Walking can also help control a mild case of varicose veins. You can also try wearing elastic support stockings (with your doctor’s consent). Don’t wear tight shoes or garters or other constricting clothing.

In severe cases, varicose veins may cause swollen ankles, itching calves, and leg pain. Sensitive and prominent veins can be unsightly and uncomfortable. Fortunately, doctors can remove them safely and permanently. One surgical method is called stripping, whereby distended veins are cut out or tied off. A second option, sclerosing, calls for the injection of a solution that hardens the affected veins and blocks and blood flow. The blocked veins form a kind of scar tissue and are eventually absorbed. In both instances, blood reroutes itself through deeper lying veins.

Article extracted from this publication >> April 15, 1988