Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins, often dark blue in color, near or raised above the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are often a symptom of an underlying condition called venous insufficiency.
In healthy veins, one-way valves direct the flow of the venous blood upward and inward. Blood is collected in the superficial small veins and flows into the larger veins. The blood eventually passes through valves into the deep veins and then centrally to the heart and lungs. When one or more of these valves fail to function correctly, some blood flows down the leg in the reverse direction. The blood tends to overfill and distend the branches of the superficial veins under the skin.
Over time, the veins stretch, bulge, and become visible. These swollen, engorged or rope-like veins are called varicose veins. The valves inside these veins no longer close, allowing blood to leak back down the leg causing more distention of the vein.
What are the effects and symptoms of varicose veins?
If left untreated, varicose veins can lead to swelling, increased pain, skin discoloration, and ulcerations of the lower legs. These ulcerations are difficult to treat and can become painful and easily infected. Early symptoms include:
- Pain in legs with a feeling of tiredness and heaviness
- Swelling of the ankles or lower legs
- Discolored, brownish skin near the ankle
- A rash or skin ulceration at the ankle or lower leg
- Visible enlarged veins
- Knotted, twisted veins tending to be deep bluish in color
- Skin surrounding the varicose vein may itch or burn
What factors contribute to varicose veins?
There are many factors that can lead to the development of varicose veins. Some can be controlled, while others are inevitable. The good news is that varicose veins can be treated with minimal discomfort, and virtually no down-time.
Here are some of the leading causes of varicose veins:
- Heredity – Varicose veins tend to run in families.
- Age – As we age, elastic fibers in all tissues deteriorate, leading to dilated and tortuous blood vessels.
- Obesity – Excess weight increases the pressure on the vein valves and can lead to weakening.
- Hormones – Changes in hormone levels brought on by puberty, pregnancy, menopause, hormone replacement therapy, and birth control pills all contribute.
- Pregnancy – Increased volume of blood in the body and increased pressures on the pelvic veins are all contributors.
- Gender – Women have an increased incidence of varicose veins, primarily due to the production of progesterone, a female hormone.
- Occupation – Prolonged sitting or standing during the job can lead to venous insufficiency.
- Lifestyle – body building or heavy weight lifting may increase the chance of developing varicose veins due to strain on the groin and pelvis.