Varicose VeinsVaricose veins are the result of weakened veins in the circulatory system and can appear as twisted clusters of bluish-purple veins. They are most commonly found on the legs and around the pelvic area. Sometimes, they are surrounded by spider veins, which are thin, red capillaries. While not a serious medical condition, varicose veins can be painful and require medical treatment.
Causes of Varicose Veins
Veins are blood vessels that are part of the circulatory system; they carry blood back to your heart. Inside each vein are valves that flap open and shut to ensure the blood flows in the correct direction. However, as part of aging, veins can begin to lose their elasticity, becoming weak and less flexible.
When that happens, veins can become enlarged, causing the valves to malfunction. If blood collects inside the veins, they begin to swell, bulge and twist and become visible underneath the skin.
Varicose veins are common—at least a third of adults deal with varicose veins at some point in their lives and women are more often affected than men. While the condition usually results from the natural aging process, varicose veins can also be caused by:
- Being overweight
- Standing or sitting with your legs crossed for long periods of time
- Using birth control
- Having a history of blood clots
- Having a family history of varicose veins
- Experiencing hormonal changes due to pregnancy and/or menopause
- Having liver disease, heart failure, groin surgery or fluid in the abdomen
Symptoms of Varicose Veins
Varicose veins can be painful, and symptoms can worsen after prolonged periods of standing or sitting. You may experience:
- Swollen legs
- Muscle cramps
- Sore, aching, throbbing, tingling or tired legs
- Itchiness around the varicose vein
- Discoloration of the skin around the ankles
- Leg ulcers
Diagnosis of Varicose Veins
A physical exam is often the first step in the diagnostic process. Your physician will examine your legs while you are standing and sitting. If further evaluation is needed, a Doppler scan may be recommended. This ultrasound tool looks at the blood flow in the veins near the skin’s surface as well as deeper veins below the skin’s surface.
Treatment for Varicose VeinsMost vascular physicians treat varicose veins conservatively at first. This may include having you:
- Wear compressions stockings
- Make lifestyle changes such as eating healthier and exercising more
- Elevate your legs while you are sitting and sleeping
- Take frequent breaks while standing
If these treatments don’t provide relief, other treatment options such as laser therapy, minimally invasive VNUS Closure® surgery and sclerotherapy (a type of injectable therapy) may be recommended.
While there isn’t a cure for varicose veins, these treatments can help relieve your pain and improve the veins’ overall appearance.