Varicose veins are veins that have become widened, swollen and enlarged (usually in the legs). They are very common and do not cause medical problems in most people.
There are two main systems of veins in the legs:
- Deep veins that carry most of the blood back up the legs to the heart; the leg muscles squeeze the deep veins during walking and standing
- Superficial veins are under the skin (these are less important and can form varicose veins).
All of these veins contain one-way valves to ensure that the blood flows towards the heart. Failure of these valves allows blood to flow backwards down the veins and results in more pressure in the legs when standing. The pressure in the legs leads to widening of the veins, which means that the valves do not close properly. When they don’t close properly, blood flows back into the leg along these veins and that is how varicose veins develop. These veins, also called spider veins, look like bruises.
Women are more affected with this condition.
Symptoms of varicose veins may not appear in many people except that they can be seen on the skin (dark purple color, looking like cords). Symptoms that persons with varicose veins may experience are:
- pain in the legs
- feeling of heaviness in the legs
- swelling of ankles
- itching in the area of the varicose vein(s)
- damaged skin near the ankle
- ulcer, if skin is injured
The causes of varicose veins are:
- family history
- standing for long time
- hormonal factors including puberty, menopause, birth control pills
- leg injury
Risk factors for varicose veins are:
- long standing or sitting
- gender (women being more affected)
- family history
Complications from varicose veins are:
- ulcers near the varicose veins, which may be quite painful
- phlebitis (inflammation of the veins) when blood clots are formed
- deep vein thrombosis
- bleeding (rare)
Prevention of varicose veins is not completely possible. The first steps to be taken are to improve the circulation. However, if it comes to occurrence of varicose veins, in the early stages you are able to prevent further progression. This includes: losing weight, healthy diet, wear support stockings, elevate the legs, and avoid long standing or sitting.