Varicose Veins

By:    Published: September 12, 2012

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Varicose veins are a problem for many older individuals. Though they are more common in women, men can also get varicose veins. Most varicose veins are only a cosmetic concern, but some can lead to pain or discomfort. Find out more about how these veins develop and what you can do to prevent or get rid of them.

Definition

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that often have a gnarled or twisted appearance. They typically occur on the backs of the calves, the inside of the leg and the feet due to the pressure exerted on these areas when standing and walking. However, any vein can potentially become varicose. In addition, varicose veins can lead to complications, such as ulcers and blood clots, and may be a sign of circulatory problems.

There are a couple of well-known conditions that are actually varieties of varicose veins, including:

  • Spider veins: These are a milder type of varicose veins that appear as web-like networks of thin, red lines on the surface of the skin. They usually occur on the legs, feet and face.
  • Hemorrhoids: These are swollen, inflamed veins around the lower rectum or anus. The most common symptom of hemorrhoids is blood in the stool.

Symptoms

The appearance of varicose veins makes them easy to diagnose. These veins are dark purple or blue in color and appear twisted or gnarled. They usually bulge from the surface of the skin.

In addition, varicose veins may cause certain symptoms, including:

  • Tenderness or pain in the veins, especially after sitting or standing for a long time
  • A heavy or aching feeling in the legs
  • Burning, throbbing muscle cramping in the legs
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Pain that is worse after sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Itching one or more veins
  • Skin ulcers near the ankle (this requires medical attention as it may be a sign of vascular disease)

Causes And Risk Factors

Varicose veins develop when the valves in the veins function inefficiently. This causes the blood to stay in the vein longer than it should or even flow backwards, which results in swelling of the vein. Varicose veins are most common in the legs and feet because gravity makes it more difficult for the blood to pump up towards the heart when a person is standing or sitting.

There are several risk factors that increase the chances of developing varicose veins:

  • Age: As a person ages, the valves in the veins are more likely to experience trouble working correctly. In addition, the veins can wear out over time in areas where it is difficult to pump blood back to the heart, such as in the feet and legs.
  • Sex: Varicose veins are more common in women. This may be due, in part, to the hormonal changes that take place throughout a woman’s life since female hormones tend to relax vein walls. For this reason, taking hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills can also increase the risk of developing varicose veins.
  • Pregnancy: Women who are pregnant have an increased risk of developing varicose veins. During pregnancy, the volume of blood in the body increases in order to support a growing fetus. At the same time, however, the flow of blood from the legs to the pelvis is decreased. This can result in varicose veins forming in the legs. This often worsens during late pregnancy when the uterus is exerting more pressure on the leg veins. These veins usually improve on their own in the months following the delivery.
  • Family history: Those with family members who had varicose veins have a greater risk of developing them.
  • Weight: Individuals who are overweight or obese have an increased risk due to the added pressure on their veins.
  • Sitting/Standing for Long Periods: This makes it harder for blood to flow well. Those who sit or stand for long stretches of time as part of their work routine may have an increased risk of varicose veins.

Prevention

Many of the factors that lead to varicose veins – family history, age, sex, etc. – cannot be avoided. However, there are certain things you can to do reduce your risk of developing varicose veins, such as:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a low-salt, high fiber diet
  • Elevate your legs
  • Avoid wearing high heels and tight hosiery
  • Don’t sit or stand still for too long

[Related – The Effects Of Wearing High Heels On The Body]

Treatment

There are several options for treating varicose veins. These treatment options include:

  • Compression stockings: These tight stockings help blood move more efficiently through the veins.
  • Laser surgery: This procedure involves closing off smaller varicose veins with a laser.
  • Sclerotherapy: A doctor can inject varicose veins with a solution that scars and closes the veins.
  • Vein stripping: Long veins can be removed through small incisions.
  • Catheter-assisted procedures: A catheter is inserted into a vein in order to seal it shut.
  • Ambulatory phlebectomy: Smaller varicose veins are removed through skin punctures.
  • Endoscopic vein surgery: The veins are removed through small incisions.

[Related – Wearing Compression Stockings For Spider Veins]

Though there are many treatment options available for varicose veins, keep in mind that many of these veins are not a health threat. If you have varicose veins that you would like removed, talk to your doctor about the possible risks and results of the treatment options outlined above before making a decision.

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