Varicose veins are enlarged, swollen, twisted veins that often have a blue or dark purple color. They appear when faulty or damaged valves in the veins allow blood to flow in the wrong direction or build up. Over 23% of all adults are affected by varicose veins.
- 1 Main causes of appearance of varicose veins
- 2 Risk factors
- 3 What are varicose veins?
- 4 Are they dangerous?
- 5 Routine treatment of varicose veins
- 6 home remedies
- 7 Symptoms of varicose veins
- 8 Complications
- 9 Prevention
- 10 Sources
Main causes of appearance of varicose veins
Veins have one-way valves, so blood can only flow in one direction. If the walls of the vein stretch and become less flexible, or elastic, the valves may weaken.
A weakened valve can allow blood to leak back and flow in the opposite direction. When this happens, blood can pool in one or more veins, which then become dilated and swollen.
The veins furthest from the heart, such as those in the legs, are most often affected. This is because gravity makes it more difficult for blood to return to the heart.
Any condition that puts pressure on the abdomen can potentially cause varicose veins. Here are some examples:
– the pregnancy
– the constipation
– tumors, in rare cases
Another example is chronic venous insufficiency, which occurs when the skin does not properly exchange oxygen, nutrients and waste products with the blood, because the blood flow is not strong enough.
Health experts aren’t sure exactly why vein walls stretch or why valves become faulty. In many cases, this happens for no specific reason.
However, some potential risk factors include:
– to be pregnant
– be over 50 years old
– standing for long periods of time
– have a family history of varicose veins
– be obese
There is a link between the following risk factors from the trusted source and a higher risk of having varicose veins:
Gender: Varicose veins affect women more often than men. It may be that female hormones relax the veins. If so, taking birth control pills or hormone therapy may play a role.
Genetics: Varicose veins often run in families.
Obesity: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of varicose veins.
Age: The risk increases with age due to wear of the venous valves.
Certain jobs: A person who has to spend a lot of time on their feet at work may have a higher likelihood of developing varicose veins.
Pregnancy and varicose veins
People who can get pregnant are much more likely to develop varicose veins during pregnancy than at any other time in their lives. Pregnant women have much more blood in the body, which puts additional pressure on the circulatory system. Additionally, changes in hormone levels can lead to loosening of blood vessel walls. Both of these factors increase the risk of having varicose veins. With the growth of the uterus, the pressure on the veins of the pelvic area increases. In the majority of cases, varicose veins disappear after the end of pregnancy. However, this is not always the case, and sometimes, even if the varicose veins improve, there may still be a few visible ones.
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are large, swollen veins that often appear on the legs and feet. They develop when the valves in the veins don’t work properly and blood doesn’t flow as efficiently. Varicose veins rarely require treatment for health reasons, but if there is swelling, leg pain and considerable discomfort, treatment is possible. There are different options, including some home remedies. In severe cases, a varicose vein may rupture or develop into varicose ulcers on the skin. These require treatment.
Are they dangerous?
While in most cases varicose veins are simply uncomfortable and unsightly, sometimes they can be dangerous if left untreated. If a person does not receive proper treatment, their varicose veins can prevent proper blood circulation. This can cause blood clots to form, which can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a life-threatening condition. Also, if left untreated, varicose veins can burst. This is also a medical emergency.
Routine treatment of varicose veins
If a person has no symptoms or discomfort and does not mind the sight of varicose veins, treatment may not be necessary. Most people with varicose veins can get enough relief with home remedies, such as compression stockings. However, if symptoms do not improve easily, medical treatment may be needed to reduce pain or discomfort or to treat complications such as leg ulcers, skin discoloration or swelling. Some people may also want treatment for cosmetic reasons, wanting to get rid of “ugly” varicose veins.
If the varicose veins are large, they may need to be surgically removed. This procedure is usually done under general anesthesia. In most cases, the patient can go home the same day. However, if surgery is needed on both legs, the patient may need to stay overnight in the hospital. Laser treatments are often used to close small veins and spider veins. Powerful bursts of light are applied to the vein, which gradually fades and disappears.
Ligation and stripping
Two incisions are made: one near the patient’s groin, above the target vein, and the other further down the leg, at the ankle or knee. The upper part of the vein is tied off and sealed. A thin, flexible thread is threaded through the lower part of the vein and then withdrawn, taking the vein with it. This procedure usually does not require a hospital stay. Ligation and removal can sometimes lead to bruising, bleeding, and pain. In extremely rare cases, there may be deep vein thrombosis (DVT), i.e. a blood clot forms in the vein of the leg.
After the operation, most patients will begin to recover within a few days, but it may take a few weeks for them to return to work and other usual tasks. During the recovery period, they will have to wear compression stockings.
A doctor injects small and medium-sized varicose veins with a chemical, which scars and closes them. A few weeks later, they should fade. A vein may require several injections.
A doctor makes a small incision above or below the knee using an ultrasound. He then inserts a narrow tube, or catheter, into the vein. The doctor then inserts a probe into the catheter, which emits radiofrequency energy. The radiofrequency energy heats the vein, which causes its walls to collapse, effectively closing it and sealing it. This procedure is best for larger varicose veins. Radiofrequency ablation is usually performed under local anesthesia.
Endovenous laser treatment
A doctor inserts a catheter into the patient’s vein. He then passes a small laser through the catheter and positions it at the top of the target vein, delivering short pulses of energy that heat the vein and close it. Using an ultrasound, the doctor passes the laser all the way through the vein, gradually burning and sealing it. This procedure is performed under local anesthesia. There may be some nerve damage, which is usually brief.
A person can take steps at home to improve pain and prevent their varicose veins from getting worse.
These measures include:
– doing physical exercise
– reach a moderate body weight
– elevate the legs
– avoid prolonged standing or sitting
There are also many over-the-counter natural treatments, usually topical creams and emollients. They can help soothe pain and promote comfort. They can also improve the general appearance of varicose veins.
Compression stockings tighten a person’s legs and improve circulation. They are tight around the ankles and released further up the leg. In this way, compression stockings promote good blood flow upwards, against gravity, and towards the heart. Compression stockings can relieve discomfort, pain, and swelling, but research has not confirmed whether they prevent varicose veins from getting worse or even prevent them. Studies have yielded mixed and conflicting results. Stockings make some people’s skin dry and flaky. If this happens, it is important to contact a doctor.
Symptoms of varicose veins
Some people may experience:
– sore legs
– a feeling of heavy legs, especially after exercise or during sleep
– a minor injury to the affected area which may result in longer than normal bleeding
– lipodermatosclerosis, where the fat under the skin just above the ankle can become hard, causing the skin to shrink
– swollen ankles
– telangiectasia in the affected leg (varicose veins)
– a shiny discoloration of the skin near the varicose veins
– venous eczema, or stasis dermatitis, where the skin in the affected area is red, dry and itchy.
– cramps in the legs when getting up suddenly
– restless leg syndrome
– white atrophy, which is manifested by the appearance of irregular whitish spots resembling scars on the ankles.
Any condition in which blood flow is compromised is at risk of complications. However, in the majority of cases, varicose veins cause no complications.
If complications arise, they may include Trusted Source:
– venous ulcers
– poor circulation
– thrombophlebitis, ie the formation of blood clots in the vein of the leg, which cause inflammation of the vein.
People with chronic venous insufficiency may develop:
– varicose eczema
– venous ulcers
Venous ulcers typically form around the ankles and are often preceded by a discolored area. It is important to get a medical evaluation for chronic venous insufficiency.
In order to reduce the risk of developing varicose veins, it is advisable to:
– to do a lot of exercise, such as walking
– reach or maintain a moderate body weight
– avoid standing too long
– avoid sitting with your legs crossed
– to sit or sleep with the feet elevated on a pillow.
Anyone who must stand for work should try to move at least once every 30 minutes.
Antani, MR, et al. (2021). Varicose veins.
Cheung, ME, et al. (2021). Duplex ultrasound.
Lin, F., et al. (2015). The management of varicose veins.
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