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Varicose Veins: Not Just Your Grandmother’s Headache

When your job requires you to stand throughout your shift, it’s not just tired feet that can be a consequence. Regularly standing for hours at a time, which is typical of many construction tasks, can contribute to developing varicose veins.

Many people think these bulging, twisted and discolored veins that fan out across the legs are an inevitability of aging and of being female. While both of these factors increase the likelihood of developing them, neither is a prerequisite. Anyone can develop varicose veins and they’re not just unsightly.

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck
LHSFNA Management
Noel C. Borck

“Varicose veins can be quite painful and make it difficult to work. They can also be indicative of other more serious medical conditions,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Understanding what can cause varicose veins may help you reduce your risk for developing them. If you have varicose veins, there are measures you can take that can help minimize their impact on your life.”

Varicose Veins

The veins are the body’s highway system for transporting blood back to the heart, which has pumped it to the whole body through the arteries. Valves – one-way flaps in the veins – keep blood flowing upward. However, because gravity dictates otherwise, valves in the legs endure stress from blood continuously pressing down on them. Over time, this can make them fail. When this happens, blood begins leaking out and flowing backward, where it pools in the legs and ankles. This causes the veins in these areas to become varicose: swollen, gnarled and sometimes painful.

Common Causes of Varicose Veins Include:

  • Heredity or family history of varicose veins
  • Advancing age
  • Prolonged standing
  • Prolonged sitting with legs crossed
  • Being overweight
  • Hormonal influences during pregnancy
  • Birth control pills
  • Post-menopausal hormonal replacement therapy
  • Wearing tight undergarments or clothes
  • A history of blood clots
  • Injury to the veins
  • Conditions that cause increased pressure in the abdomen including liver disease, fluid in the abdomen, previous groin surgery or heart failure

“Highway flaggers and other workers with job responsibilities that keep them on their feet and relatively immobile – or anyone who sits for long periods of time – are at increased risk for developing varicose veins,” says Borck. “It is important to shift positions whenever possible and to move around during breaks. When resting or sleeping, keep the legs elevated.”

Varicose Veins Can Cause:

  • Tiredness, burning, throbbing, tingling or heaviness in the legs
  • Itching around the vein
  • Swollen legs
  • Muscle cramps, soreness or aching in the legs
  • Brown discoloration of the skin, especially around the ankles

Varicose Veins Can Also Cause More Serious Problems:

  • Sores or skin ulcers due to chronic (long-term) backing up of blood. These sores or ulcers are painful and hard to heal. Sometimes they cannot heal until the backward blood flow in the vein is repaired.
  • Bleeding due to skin over the veins that thins and is easily injured. When an injury occurs, there can be significant blood loss.
  • Superficial thrombophlebitis (throm-bo-fli-BYT-uhs), which is a blood clot that forms in a vein just below the skin. Symptoms include skin redness, a firm, tender, warm vein and sometimes pain and swelling.
  • Deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot in a deeper vein. It can cause a “pulling” feeling in the calf, pain, warmth, redness and swelling. Other times, it causes no significant symptoms. However, if the blood clot travels to the lungs, it can be fatal.

If you have varicose veins and develop any of these symptoms, see your health care provider immediately.


A number of treatment options are available for varicose veins. These include:

  • Compression stockings to improve blood flow and reduce swelling
  • Laser and pulse-light therapy to shrink blood vessels
  • Surgery to remove or tie off varicose veins

Benefits may be available to cover the cost of some of these treatments. If varicose veins are affecting your life, check with your health and welfare fund office to see what coverage may be available.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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