Varicose Veins

varicose veinsWhat are varicose veins and what are the causes?

The heart pumps blood filled with oxygen and nutrients to the whole body. Arteries carry blood from the heart towards the body parts. Veins carry oxygen-poor blood from the body back to the heart. The squeezing of leg muscles pumps blood back to the heart from the lower body. Veins have valves that act as one-way flaps. These valves prevent the blood from flowing backwards as it moves up the legs. If the one-way valves become weak, blood can leak back into the vein and collect there. This problem is called venous insufficiency. Pooled blood enlarges the vein and it becomes varicose.

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that have become distended or swollen and the valves which move blood to the heart cannot close properly and start to leak. Blood that should be pushed back to the heart leaks downward, pooling in the lower extremities of the body and causing the veins to bulge. People who sit or stand in one position for long amounts of time, sit with their legs crossed, or who do not exercise are prone to varicose veins.

Many factors increase a person's chances of developing varicose veins:
  • Increased age
  • Family history
  • Hormonal changes, such as puberty, pregnancy or birth control pills
  • Obesity
  • Leg injury
  • Prolonged standing/sitting
  • Heavy lifting

Varicose vein symptoms

Varicose veins are dark blue, swollen and twisted veins visible through the skin. People with varicose veins describe having legs that feel heavy, tired, achy and painful. Symptoms may worsen after standing or sitting for long periods of time. If you have varicose veins, you may also notice skin color changes, dry, thin skin, irritated skin, open sores or bleeding.

Sometimes a blood clot or injury develops at the surface of the skin near a vein. This is called thrombophlebitis.

Although varicose veins are not considered serious, in some cases, varicose veins can signal a blockage in the deeper veins. This condition, called deep vein thrombosis, requires evaluation and possible treatment.

Varicose vein treatment

Learn about the treatment options available for varicose veins: Learn about sclerotherapy, a treatment for both spider veins and varicose veins.