Those unsightly, knotted veins that appear on the surface of the skin are called varicose veins. They occur when the vein walls weaken, causing blood to pool because it is no longer flowing with consistent pressure toward the heart. These usually appear in the legs because gravity is pulling the veins’ flow backwards. Veins are not as thick as arteries, which need to be stronger to support a great deal of pressure from the pumping heart. Instead, veins have increased elasticity to close valves and prevent blood from flowing backwards. As people get older, the vein walls weaken, making varicose veins more likely to appear. However, recent studies have shown that varicose veins can actually occur at any age.

Varicose veins are commonly associated with women, due to their prevalence during pregnancy, and old age, since the vein walls have a propensity—like the body—to weaken. For many, these demographics serve as the standard for who is at a high-risk for this venous insufficiency. However, it is not impossible for men and teenagers to suffer from varicose veins and, while it is uncommon in youths, men are just as likely to suffer varicosities.

The primary factor for whether or not a person will suffer from varicose veins is hereditary. If a subject’s family members have varicosities, then the chance is very high, regardless of age, gender, or body type. Another reported factor is lifestyle, especially with jobs that involve extended sitting or standing. Given, this latter factor, the increase in youths with varicose veins can easily be tied to the development of the internet. It’s not unheard of for modern teenagers to spend a significant amount of time sitting before a computer. However, this does not mean that dedicated students or researchers are the only ones at risk, but even those who partake in sports.

There have been cases of cheerleaders getting varicose veins due to the extended amount of standing for the extracurricular activity. Additionally, the hormones progesterone and estrogen increase blood flow in the body, and with other lifestyle factors, these can result in varicose veins.

The other underlying issue for varicosities in youths is the growing number of overweight and obese people. Obesity has been and continues to be a concern in America. Moreover, child obesity is a rapidly rising problem. As mentioned previously, veins are not intended to withstand a great amount of pressure, so the added weight puts more stress on the veins. Not to mention that, if someone is obese, then the body is already working significantly harder to maintain itself; the added stress upon the veins can lead to greater pooling, and it can happen far deeper below the skin’s surface. This can result in deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can cause large blood clots to form and be transported to the lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolism (PE)—this can be fatal.

Many of these effects can be avoided if the problem is treated early on. There’s a common belief that varicose veins only happen in pregnant and older women, but men suffer them just as often, and moreover teenagers are at risk, especially in a progressively sedentary society.

By Nathan Huxley