Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are enlarged, bulging veins that run just beneath the surface of your skin. These problematic veins often appear on the legs and feet. They develop when the valve in the veins stops working properly. When veins begin to malfunction, blood can flow backwards and start to “pool.” Varicose veins are usually harmless. However, in some cases, they can cause pain and discomfort. Deep varicose veins are not visible but tend to cause aching or swelling throughout the affected limb. Sometimes, blood clots can develop. When inflamed, these veins become tender to touch. They also impede blood flow- causing itchy skin, aching, and swollen ankles in the affected limb. In severe cases, the varicose vein may rupture, leading to varicose ulcers on the skin.

Symptoms of Varicose Veins

Varicose veins affect about 23% of all americans.

Varicose veins are relatively common, especially if you have a family history of the condition. The disorder affects men and women of any age but most frequently affects women in their childbearing years and the elderly.

  • Varicose veins have a blue or dark purple color, making them visible on your skin. The veins appear bulging or twisted, like cords on your feet. Sometimes, painful signs and symptoms also develop. 
  • A heavy or achy feeling in your feet
  • Throbbing, burning, muscle cramping in your lower legs
  • Itching on your lower legs
  • Worsening pain, especially after standing or sitting for an extended period
  • Skin discoloration on the affected limb
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Leg cramps at rest, especially at night
    • Varicose veins occur when the valve inside the veins fails to function properly. Healthy veins allow blood to flow efficiently back to the heart. Backward blood flow is prevented by small valves that open and close. In some instances, damaged or weakened veins cause blood to flow backward. The blood collects in the vein, causing it to be swollen/enlarged.

    In other scenarios, weakened or damaged veins can also cause blood to pool. When the veins become weak, they are unable to push blood back to the heart. This causes the blood volume in the vessels to increase, leading to varicose veins. Some of the other less common causes of varicose veins are listed below.

    • Inflammation of the veins (phlebitis)
    • Congenital abnormalities of the veins
    • Blood clots and other conditions that may obstruct the flow of blood in the veins

Varicose Veins Complications

Non-Healing Ulcers

Sometimes, Varicose veins lead to painful ulcers that form on the skin near the affected veins and ankles. Before forming the ulcer, you will note a discolored spot that deteriorates to become a painful non-healing ulcer. In case you suspect the formation of an ulcer, seek medical intervention immediately.

Blood Clots

Chronic inflammation in your legs requires medical attention as it most often indicates a blood clot. Blood clots (Thrombus) are dangerous as they can travel up the veins, causing a stroke. When blood pools in the veins, the affected area becomes painful and swells.

Bleeding

Sometimes, Varicose veins lead to painful ulcers that form on the skin near the affected veins and ankles. Before forming the ulcer, you will note a discolored spot that deteriorates to become a painful non-healing ulcer. In case you suspect the formation of an ulcer, seek medical intervention immediately.

Causes of Varicose Veins

Varicose vein risk increases with age. As we age, the valves in our veins become weak. The wear and tear will eventually allow the blood to leak back into the vein where it collects instead of flowing upwards to the heart.

Being overweight exerts too much pressure on the veins, making it hard for them to push the blood to your heart.

Studies show that women are more susceptible to varicose veins than men are. Hormonal changes during pregnancy or before menstruation cause the venous walls to relax, leading to blood backflow. Hormone treatment such as birth control pills can also increase your likelihood of developing varicose veins.

Research also shows that individuals with a family history of varicose veins have an increased chance of developing the condition.

A sedentary lifestyle that involves standing or sitting for an extended period without movement or exercising may lead to improper blood circulation.

The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can also increase your risk for varicose veins. When you become pregnant, the blood volume in the body increases to help support the growing fetus. Unfortunately, the increased blood might be too much for your veins to push back to the heart from your feet, resulting in enlarged veins.

Speak to a Vascular Specialist

Diagnosing varicose veins is usually simple since they are easily visible. The doctor will also perform a physical examination to assess the extent of your condition. Here, your physician may also ask you to describe any aching and pain in your limb. You may also need an ultrasound test to check how the veins are functioning or if a blood clot restricts the blood flow. Another standard test is the plethysmography test that checks how the affected veins work by measuring the blood that flows through the veins. Contact a vascular specialist to learn more information!

Treatment & Prevention

Treatment for varicose veins may include self-care measures, compression stockings, and surgeries or procedures. Procedures to treat varicose veins are often done as an outpatient procedure, which means you usually go home on the same day. Ask your insurer if varicose vein treatment is a covered expense.

  • Regular Exercise
  • Moving Around Regularly
  • Elevating Your Feet
  • Maintaining Healthy Weight
  • Avoid Wearing Tight-Fitting Clothes
  • Supportive Pantyhose & Compression Socks

Compression therapy is the most conservative treatment option. Compression stockings are designed to apply specific pressure to the legs to alleviate discomfort and swelling and do not require a prescription.

Treatment Options

What to Expect

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