© 2022 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Uncovering the mystery behind varicose veins

Warren Flick

We all know that person who, when upset, has that neck vein that bulges and pulses uncontrollably. Although unsightly and intimidating, we have come to accept and expect to see those veins at times, but veins that bulge permanently are a different story.

Varicose veins are common and bulge in quite the same way, yet they remain shrouded in mystery for some people.

Dr. Jennifer Heller, assistant professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Vein Centers, joins “Take Care” this week to address varicose veins and uncover the mystery behind these bulging blood vessels.

Heller is a vascular surgeon who specializes in the latest minimally invasive and surgical treatments for varicose and spider veins.

In the human circulatory system, there are two types of tubes that carry blood within the body. The arties spread the blood throughout the body, while veins pump blood back to the heart.

Inside the veins there are valves that help to push the blood up and to keep it there so it does not fall back into the feet. Heller says the most important aspect of these valves is that “they need to close.”

“If they don’t close when our legs are down the blood falls down to the feet,” Heller says.  “The body senses this and wants to get our blood back up [to the heart] and the way it does that is with developing varicose veins.”

Occurring mainly in the legs, varicose veins, which contain no valves at all, only help to increase the problem.

Trauma, valves that do not function properly, having previous blood clots and being female (due to hormonal changes or pregnancy) are all ways varicose veins can develop. Heller says that genetics remain the major factor in determining if a person will develop varicose veins.

“They are absolutely genetic,” Heller says. “Unfortunately, once the genetic cause and combination with risk factors develop it’s a little bit hard to reverse the progression without any kind of intervention.”

Despite there being no reversal to the process Heller explains that there are ways to keep the blood in the legs flowing.

“Exercise and staying slender certainly help. Walking or moving at the ankle level helps prevent blood from pooling and push it back into circulation,” Heller says.

Movement at the ankle via flexing or exercise can make a huge difference in the appearance or varicose veins. Heller says that if signs of varicose veins are prevalent then seeking medical attention is important.