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Why do I get varicose and spider veins on my legs?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

The reason that varicose veins typically occur in the feet and legs is a matter of physics. Gravity is constantly pulling you downward, and weight puts pressure on your legs and feet. For this reason, your circulatory system works hard to push the blood back up to your heart which can create changes in your veins which lead to varicose veins.

Dr. Ellen S. Marmur, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

This is a circulation problem stemming from incompetent valves in the vessels. These valves are supposed to prevent the backflow of blood, helping it move back up toward the brain—no easy feat considering the distance from your legs to your head and the downward pull of gravity. When they're working properly, the valves prevent blood from rushing down to the feet (another brilliant engineering facet of the body). People with varicose veins have "floppy valves" that don't open and close effectively, which causes blood to flood these leg vessels. The condition definitely worsens in pregnancy, perhaps because the blood flow doubles at that time.

This circulatory condition is partially genetic, but it can occur as a result of physical trauma too. I got my spider veins and varicose veins after a bad bicycle accident compressed my leg. In my situation, I think genetics has played a part too, and my varicose veins did get worse during my pregnancies.

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The force of gravity, the pressure of body weight, and the task of carrying blood from the bottom of the body up to the heart make legs the primary location for varicose and spider veins. Compared with other veins in the body, leg veins have the toughest job of carrying blood back to the heart. They endure the most pressure. This pressure can be stronger than the veins' one-way valves.

This answer is based on source information from The National Women's Health Information Center.

Varicose veins often occur in the legs because the force of gravity makes it harder for the leg veins to pump blood back up toward the heart compared to other areas of the body such as arms and face.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.