Varicose Veins

What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins. Any vein may become varicose, but the veins most commonly affected are those in your legs and feet. That’s because standing and walking upright increases the pressure in the veins of your lower body.
For many people, varicose veins and spider veins — a common, mild variation of varicose veins — are simply a cosmetic concern. For other people, varicose veins can cause aching pain and discomfort. Sometimes varicose veins lead to more-serious problems. Varicose veins may also signal a higher risk of other circulatory problems. Treatment may involve procedures by your doctor to close or remove veins.

What causes varicose veins?

Varicose veins are caused by weakened valves and veins in your legs. Normally, one-way valves in your veins keep blood flowing from your legs up toward your heart. When these valves do not work as they should, blood collects in your legs, and pressure builds up. The veins become weak, large, and twisted. Varicose veins often run in families. Aging also increases your risk.
Being overweight or pregnant or having a job where you must stand for long periods of time increases pressure on leg veins. This can lead to varicose veins.

What are the symptoms?

Varicose veins look dark blue, swollen, and twisted under the skin. Some people do not have any symptoms. Mild symptoms may include:
Heaviness, burning, aching, tiredness, or pain in your legs. Symptoms may be worse after you stand or sit for long periods of time.
Swelling in your feet and ankles.
Itching over the vein.

More serious symptoms include:

  • Leg swelling.
  • Swelling and calf pain after you sit or stand for long periods of time.
  • Skin changes, such as: Color changes.
  • Dry, thinned skin.
  • Inflammation.
  • Scaling.
  • Open sores, or you may bleed after a minor injury.

Venous insufficiency is a very common condition resulting from decreased blood flow from the leg veins up to the heart, with pooling of blood in the veins. Normally, one-way valves in the veins keep blood flowing toward the heart, against the force of gravity. When the valves become weak and don’t close properly, they allow blood to flow backward, a condition called reflux. Veins that have lost their valve effectiveness, become elongated, rope-like, bulged, and thickened. These enlarged, swollen vessels are known as varicose veins and are a direct result of increased pressure from reflux. A common cause of varicose veins in the legs is reflux in a thigh vein called the great saphenous, which leads to pooling in the visible varicose vein below.

Symptoms caused by venous insufficiency and varicose veins include aching leg pain, easy leg fatigue, and leg heaviness, all of which worsen as the day progresses. Many people find they need to sit down in the afternoon and elevate their legs to relieve these symptoms. In more severe cases, venous insufficiency and reflux can cause skin discoloration and ulceration which may be very difficult to treat. One percent of adults over age 60 have chronic wounds known as ulcers.

People without visible varicose veins can still have symptoms. The symptoms can arise from spider veins as well as from varicose veins, because, in both cases, the symptoms are caused by pressure on nerves by dilated veins.