Why do varicose veins usually appear on the legs?
Varicose veins are damaged blood vessels that have begun to swell, stretch and leak. This occurs because the valves in the veins become damaged as a result of this swelling and stretching, allowing blood to flow backwards into the vein, causing further swelling and sometimes leaking. This blood can begin to leak and pool in the surrounding tissues.
These veins most commonly appear in the lower legs because veins in this area have the difficult job of working against gravity to push blood towards the heart. Long periods of sitting or standing still can slow down blood flow, allowing blood to pool and forcing these veins to work harder to keep blood flowing.
However in some cases varicose veins appear in other places around the body.
The appearance of varicose veins on the arms is unusual but not impossible. They occur here for the same reasons they do in the legs: they’re damaged veins that begin to swell and leak blood. However, they’re less common in the arms because arm veins don’t have to work as hard to get blood back to the heart as the veins in the legs do, and they aren’t working against gravity to the same extent.
Varicose veins can sometimes appear on both male and female genitals.
During pregnancy, women are naturally more prone to varicose veins. In some cases, these veins appear on the genitals. This is because the increasing weight of a baby puts pressure on the veins in the pelvis, and during pregnancy the volume of blood in your body increases, which further increases venous pressure. Moreover, the increase of progesterone during pregnancy causes blood vessels to relax, making it easier for them to stretch and swell.
The appearance of varicose veins on male genitals is also surprisingly common. These are called varicoceles and appear in the scrotum. About 15% of the male population have a varicocele, usually developing between the ages of 15 and 25. They aren’t usually serious, but it has been noted that having a varicocele can in some cases decrease sperm count and quality, occasionally resulting in infertility.
Varicose veins of the rectum and anus are also known as hemorrhoids. These often also result from pregnancy for the same reasons that varicose veins can appear on the vulva and vagina during pregnancy; increased pressure from the heavy baby, increased pressure due to increased volume of blood and the relaxing of veins due to progesterone.
These kinds of varicose veins can also appear in people who aren’t pregnant. The most common cause is in this case excessive straining, for example due to constipation.
Varicose veins can also appear internally in the general pelvic area. This is also known as Pelvic Venous Congestion Syndrome (PVCS) and occurs in veins in the pelvis and around the ovaries. It can cause chronic pain in the lower abdomen and sometimes causes visible varicose veins to appear on the vulva or inner thigh.
Esophageal Varices are varicose veins in the esophagus. This kind of varicose vein is usually caused by liver damage. This damage, known as cirrhosis, is often the result of excessive alcohol consumption or viral infections such as hepatitis. Scarring in the liver can cause blood flow to slow down, which can increase the pressure in the veins around the stomach and esophagus. The veins in the esophagus are close to the surface and so if they rupture they can begin to bleed, which can be dangerous.
Many of these occurrences of varicose veins can be treated or prevented by a range of self-help techniques.
- First, make sure you get plenty of exercise to boost circulation. This could be running, cycling or swimming, or even something gentler such as walking or yoga. If you tend to sit at a desk or stand up all day, try to keep blood flowing through your legs by doing simple exercises—bending and stretching the knees or flexing the ankles can help improve circulation. For more tips, have a look at our page on leg exercises you can do at your desk.
- In the case of hemorrhoids, try to relieve constipation by drinking plenty of water and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and high-fibre foods.
- To avoid esophageal varicose veins caused by cirrhosis, try to cut down on alcohol to prevent unnecessary liver damage.
- Elevating the affected area can also help. For example, if you have genital or rectal varicose veins, try elevating your hips slightly while lying down (on a few pillows, for example) to allow blood to flow back to the heart.
Can herbal remedies help?
Horse chestnut is traditionally used to treat the symptoms of varicose veins. Though most commonly used to relieve aching, tired legs and leg cramps associated with varicose veins, horse chestnut may also relieve symptoms of varicose veins elsewhere in the body.
We recommend A.Vogel’s Venaforce Extra tablets or Venaforce gel. Venaforce is not suitable for pregnant women, though Venaforce gel may safely be used. The gel is not for internal use and should not be used on the genital area.
Conventional treatment may not be suitable for all instances of varicose veins, so it’s best to speak to your healthcare practitioner about the treatment options available to you if your varicose veins are worrying you, causing you discomfort or causing you pain. Find out more about varicose veins here.