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Varicose veins are a manifestation of venous insufficiency. The function of a vein is to return blood to the heart from a peripheral part of the body. The blood in the veins is pushed forwards by the force of the pumped blood in the arteries.
Veins have one-way valves which are designed to close against the backflow of blood. Since veins are thin-walled, this mechanism is essential in order to prevent the pooling of blood in the lower part of every vein.
When these valves are damaged by infection, or disease, or as the result of too much and prolonged pressure on them, blood leaks back through them. This causes blood to collect in the part of the vein that is below the valve.
As the blood collects, the vein distends, and grows larger and more tortuous. Venous enlargement is a result of the abnormal release of growth factors from the damaged vein walls. This is the origin of a varicosity in a vein.
The thin vein walls mean that when blood pools within them, they stretch unduly. This causes the flaps of the valves to pull apart, causing even normal valves to become incompetent, or leaky. Blood thus moves backwards through the valves, pooling in the distal segment of the affected vein.
Many factors increase the risk of developing varicose veins. These include: