Varicose veins also known as varicose or varicosities are swollen, dilated, twisted veins filled with blood. They often appear bluish-purple or even red. Any vein close to your skin (superficial veins) can be turned into varicose veins.
Varicose veins are common in your lower limbs because of the pressure buildup during walking and standing, hence they appear around the ankles, feet or legs. They can be painful or itchy. Most times, they are surrounded by spider veins which are also a type of venous disease like varicosities but are smaller and thinner than the former. These spider veins look like webs and are not painful.
This condition is very common as it can be seen in around 25% of adults, especially women. Although varicose veins can be uncomfortable and even unsightly, they usually do not pose any threat to health. For some people, it is usually a cosmetic concern while for others, the discomfort is the major problem. In other cases though, varicosities can lead to serious health issues like the formation of blood clots which could travel distances in the body and occlude important vessels.
- Most of the symptoms of varicose veins can be managed at home or by a healthcare provider with some injections, laser therapy or even surgery as the case may be
Causes of varicose veins
Weak and damaged valves are majorly responsible for the development of varicose veins.
Veins return blood from the body back to the heart. For veins of the lower limbs, more pressure is required because the blood travels against gravity. Hence the reason for the elastic walls of veins and also the presence of valves. The valves open to propel blood towards the heart and close to prevent a backward flow of blood. When these tiny valves are weak for any reason, they cannot perform their function optimally and will end up leading to the pooling of blood in the lower limb veins as well as stretching and twisting of the veins.
Signs and symptoms of varicose veins
Most times, apart from the visible enlargement or twisting of the veins, some individuals may not experience any additional symptoms but others could have pain and some very discomforting symptoms. These include:
- Dark purple or bluish veins
- Twisted veins that are bulging and might appear like cords on the legs
- They could be itchy
- Painful and heavy legs
- Skin discolouration around varicose veins
- Burning sensation and muscle cramps in the legs
- Worsening upon sitting or standing for long periods
Management and treatment for varicose veins
Treatment of varicose veins includes the following lifestyle modifications, use of compression stockings, surgery and other available options.
- Lifestyle modifications
- Applying some self-care measures can help you prevent the formation of new varicose veins and prevent the worsening of already formed ones.
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods
- Work on losing excess weight
- Exercise often
- Elevate your legs when sitting or lying down
- Use compression stockings
Use of compression stockings is one method your doctor may advise you to adopt. These compression socks provide enough pressure for blood to flow back to your heart. The degree of compression may vary. You can purchase compressor stockings at medical stores.
The option of surgery is used if lifestyle measures aren't working out or if the varicose veins are causing serious health issues. It is an invasive procedure that requires cutting through your skin and stripping the veins through the incision.
- Other options
Other options of treatment are:
A liquid chemical is used to block off a larger vein that supplies other smaller varicose veins.
A liquid is used to block off smaller veins.
- Laser surgery
Light is the agent used to block off the veins.
Diagnosis of varicose veins
Your doctor will examine your leg while sitting and standing to properly assess the varicose veins. You will also have to discuss the symptoms you've noticed like pain and swelling.
An ultrasound scan may be requested by your doctor to check for blood flow in your veins. It also helps to ensure that there is no other disorder like a blood clot present, which could be responsible for any pain and swelling in your legs.
The risk factors for varicose vein formation are:
As people age, some wears and tears occur in the valve making it difficult for these valves to propel blood efficiently to the heart. This ultimately causes varicose veins to appear on the legs, ankles and feet.
Women have varicosities more often than men. This is because of the hormonal changes they experience during puberty, pregnancy and even menopause. These hormones relax the walls of the veins and allow for pooling of blood. Also, when women use birth control pills, they have higher chances of developing varicose veins.
Pregnancy as a physiological state poses higher demands on the body. The veins could also be affected and become enlarged and more visible.
- Family history
If a member of your family has this condition, chances are that you may also develop varicose veins.
Obesity puts extra pressure on the veins leading to varicose veins.
- Sitting or standing for long periods
Adequate movement aids proper blood flow. Remaining stagnant or in a position for long periods encourages varicose vein formation.
- Skin discolouration around the veins
- Formation of blood clots
How can I prevent varicose veins
- Avoid long periods of sitting and standing
- Elevate your legs while sitting and lying
- Exercise often
- Avoid tight clothing and uncomfortable footwear
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid tobacco use
- Try using compression stockings
How common is varicose veins
Varicose veins are actually very common. About 25 percent of adults especially women have varicose veins.
What’s the difference between varicose veins and spider veins
Most times, varicose veins are surrounded by spider veins which are also a type of venous disorder like varicosities but are smaller and thinner than the former. These spider veins look like webs and are not painful. While varicose veins are usually found on the feet, spider veins can be found anywhere from the face, to behind the knees and even the feet.
When should I see a doctor
You should consult your healthcare provider when you notice:
- Discolouration of skin
Even without symptoms, your doctor may need to perform an examination on you once you have varicose veins.
Varicose veins are very common, especially in women. You can prevent them by adhering to certain lifestyle modifications. Treatment could be home-based or managed by a doctor through some procedures or even surgery. If you have concerns about them, you should see your doctor though they aren't dangerous. Even after surgery, varicose veins can reoccur.
- Varicose Veins - Diagnosis and Treatment - Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/varicose-veins/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20350649.
- “Varicose (Spider) Veins: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” Healthline, 15 Aug. 2012, https://www.healthline.com/health/varicose-veins.
- “Varicose Veins: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment.” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4722-varicose-veins.