Veins are confusing. You finish a rigorous workout at the gym, and discover bulging veins covering your hands and lower arms. You head to the doctor for a blood draw, and the nurse can't find a vein to save your life. What's up with that? It turns out, veins can tell you quite a bit about the internal workings of your body. Here are nine things your veins can tell you about your overall health, and why you should be paying attention.
I remember as a young girl being fascinated with the purplish-blue network of veins running along my grandma's porcelain skin. "What are those, Nana?" I asked her. She laughed, and explained that they're one of the many treats of getting older. Since then, I put varicose veins in the same basket as wrinkles and gray hair: something I'd inevitably develop as I aged, thanks to genetics and time. Admittedly, my nana was no medical professional. Was she accurate? What else, other than age, can veins indicate?
Many times, visible veins are hereditary and inconsequential. In fact, varicose, spider, and bulging veins are often considered a cosmetic issue, rather than a health one. However, that's simply not always the case. Read on to discover nine surprising ways your veins may be trying to communicate with you, and what they could reveal about your physical wellbeing.
1. You're Pregnant
Sore boobs, acne, stretch marks... if you're looking for one more thing to be excited for during pregnancy, add varicose veins to your list! As What To Expect explained, "The extra volume of blood you produce during pregnancy is essential to support two growing bodies. It does, however, put extra pressure on your blood vessels — especially the veins in your legs, which have to work against gravity to push all that extra blood back up to your heart." When those veins swell above the surface of the skin, that's when you'll notice those dreaded purple lumps. The good news is, they're usually harmless... but are associated with blood clots, so let your doctor know just in case.
2. You Have Venous Insufficiency
Venous insufficiency is a fancy way of saying that your veins are having trouble circulating your blood through your body, particularly from your legs. Many believe that venous insufficiency causes varicose veins, but in fact, varicose veins are a risk factor for venous insufficiency.
"In this condition, blood doesn’t flow back properly to the heart, causing blood to pool in the veins in your legs," reported Healthline. "In varicose veins, the valves are often missing or impaired, and blood leaks back through the damaged valves."
Venous insufficiency can cause cramping, itchiness, swelling, and worsened varicose veins, and can often be treated by wearing compression stockings, elevating your legs, exercising regularly (or even surgery).
3. You're Not Active Enough
While the appearance of varicose veins can be caused in large part due to age and family history, according to the Mayo Clinic, there are lifestyle factors that can worsen them. A mostly sedentary lifestyle can exacerbate varicose veins because your veins have to work harder to get blood from your legs back to your heart, according to the Northern Illinois Vein Clinic (NIVC):
"Incorporating moderate exercise or even mild activity into your life on a regular basis can help get your blood flowing more effectively. Walking, bicycling, or performing targeted exercises can also strengthen your leg muscles. Building stronger muscles helps keep your circulatory system healthy, especially in your legs."
4. You Stand Or Sit For Long Periods Of Time
When it comes to sitting and standing, moderation is apparently key. Varicose veins can be worsened if you do either for long stretches of time. As the Johns Hopkins Medicine health library website put it, "Sitting or standing for long periods can cause blood to pool in the leg veins, increasing the pressure within the veins. The veins can stretch from the increased pressure. This may weaken the walls of the veins and damage the valves."
If you work a desk job, it's important to take breaks to stretch your legs and walk around. Conversely, if you're on your feet all day, make sure to rest periodically.
5. You Do A Lot Of Strenuous Exercise
You might notice that after a particularly sweaty gym session, your veins appear to have "popped." In fact, many weightlifters and bodybuilders pride themselves on their vascularity. Why does this occur, and is it a good or bad thing?
Turns out, it's neither good nor bad... and it's totally normal! Bulging veins can be attributed to the "pump" that your muscles get after a workout. As Scientific American reported, this "causes a swelling and hardening of the muscle that is noticed during exercise. As a result of this swelling, cutaneous veins are pushed toward the skin surface, flatten to some extent, and appear to bulge."
6. You're Overweight
Many people notice that as the number on the scale creeps up, varicose veins appear or become more prominent than before. While this can be bothersome, it's a common symptom of weight gain and obesity. "The veins in the lower legs have a harder job than the rest of the venous system because they have to work against gravity and the body’s own weight to move blood back up the body to the heart," said the Canada Vein Clinics website. "More weight means more pressure and strain on those lower leg veins."
Some people will find that losing weight will help with the unpleasant symptoms of varicose veins. However, because varicose veins can cause discomfort, others may need to address the veins before beginning a weight loss program.
7. You Have A Hormonal Imbalance
Varicose veins can also indicate changes in your hormone levels. Christopher Hollingsworth, M.D., a vein surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates, spoke to Self about the connection between these chemicals and your veins.
“When women are exposed to excess estrogen or progesterone, what it tends to do is make your soft tissue a little more flexible,” Dr. Hollingsworth told Self. “That same process, we think, is affecting the veins, making them predisposed to dilate and stretch out.” This is why varicose veins may appear or worsen during pregnancy, or after beginning hormonal birth control.
8. You're Dehydrated
There's a common misconception that varicose veins can be caused by dehydration, which is, unfortunately, categorically untrue. While hydration (or lack thereof) won't drastically change the appearance of your veins, it can make a big difference when it comes to getting your blood drawn. By drinking of plenty of water the day before and day of a blood draw, you can ensure your veins are plumper and easier to locate and prick.
"Being well-hydrated will make it far easier for the person who is taking your blood to find a vein that can easily be punctured, and far easier for you because your veins will be much easier to find and access," an article on Very Well Health stated. It's a win-win for both of you!
9. You Eat A Salty Diet
Yes, it's true... a diet heavy in salt can worsen varicose and spider veins. "Salty foods result in greater water retention," according to the Center for Vein Restoration, "which puts excessive pressure on your varicose veins." Of course, cutting back on salt can be easier said than done, as pre-packaged foods are typically filled with sodium.
To reduce the amount of salt in your diet, WebMD advises cutting back on processed food and condiments, making home-cooked meals, and reading food labels carefully.