As our bodies age, some of the effects are more visible than others. A common complaint as people get older is that their veins and skin start to change, and veins may become more visible or bulge out of the skin.
These are called varicose veins, and the visual appearance is just one part of the changes that your venous system is going through as you get older.
How Does the Venous System Work?
The vascular system includes the veins and arteries, as well as your capillaries. All of these parts of the network carry blood and oxygen around the body. The heart pumps blood through the arteries, which take the blood into your capillaries and through your limbs.
Veins have the tough task of pumping deoxygenated blood back towards the heart. They use small valves to stop the blood flowing back down towards the feet.
What Changes Come with Ageing?
Your vascular system, including the veins and arteries, goes through a number of changes as you get older.
First, a study performed by the University of Delaware found that the veins begin to stiffen and become less flexible as people age. This can become a factor in the development of hypertension (high blood pressure), as the vein walls become stiffer and thicker, making it harder for the valves inside the veins to pump the blood back towards the heart.
In addition to this, the walls of the capillaries also thicken, which can cause a slower exchange of waste and nutrients through the bloodstream.
Receptors inside the veins called baroreceptors also change, becoming less sensitive with age. These receptors monitor blood pressure, and as they age they function less well, meaning that older people often have trouble with maintaining a steady blood pressure; it is common for elderly people to have trouble with dizziness and fainting when standing up, as the baroreceptors are less quickly able to adjust the blood pressure to the change in position.
What Are the Risks?
As your vascular system ages, there are a number of risks to your health.
First, you may be more prone to varicose veins, vascular disease, blood clots, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Varicose veins may look like a superficial problem, but they can actually lead to more complicated issues if they are left untreated.
Older individuals are more likely to have vein stiffening and the associated issues, and older people are also more likely to suffer from a DVT, especially in cases where the individual is sedentary or also suffers from cancer.
How Can These Problems Be Prevented?
The main way in which these issues with the veins can be avoided is by getting regular exercise.
If you spend long periods of your day immobile, the blood-flow in your veins is reduced, and the blood can ‘pool’ and clot. Even short walks of 30-60 minutes can significantly improve the circulation.
If you spend large periods of time each day walking, make sure that you take rests to elevate your feet and give the valves in your veins a break.
A risk factor for DVT developing is having a major surgical operation, in particular those in the hip, abdomen, and legs. If you are having one of these operations, you may be given blood thinners such as aspirin or heparin prior to the surgery, or you may be asked to exercise after the operation to ensure good blood flow.
Speak to your doctor if you are in this at-risk group.
As people age, all of these risks increase due to the hardening and stiffening of the veins.
Make sure that as you get older, you take extra care of your vascular system, and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
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