Varicose veins are twisted or swollen veins that become visible under the surface of the skin. They commonly develop in the legs, but they can form on other parts of the body as well. Veins have one-way valves inside that keep blood flowing toward the heart. If these valves weaken, the blood can back up and pool in the veins, and this is what leads to the development of varicose veins.
Certain factors can make a person more at risk for developing varicose veins. Smoking, not exercising enough, being overweight or obese or sitting or standing for long periods of time can put someone at a greater risk. A family history of varicose veins can also raise the risk, and women are more likely to get them than men. They also become more common with older age and during pregnancy.
Symptoms of Varicose Veins
Sometimes varicose veins don’t cause any problems other than the undesirable look of the veins themselves. But other times, there can be additional symptoms, including pain, ulcers and skin sores. The legs may feel achy and tired, or leg cramps can cause sleepless nights.
Varicose veins can also be a problem related other health conditions like telangiectasias, which are clusters of veins on the upper body or face. Spider veins are small clusters of varicose veins on the legs or face, and varicoceles is a cluster of veins on the scrotum that may lead to male infertility.
For varicose veins that are mild and cause few symptoms, a doctor may recommend some simple lifestyle changes to prevent them from worsening. This might include exercising more, losing weight, avoiding sitting for long periods of time, not wearing tight clothing and choosing comfortable shoes. Compression stockings can also prevent blood from pooling in the legs and make people with varicose veins more comfortable.
Some people choose medical treatments for varicose veins either to improve the look of their skin or to relieve symptoms. There are several treatments for varicose veins, ranging from sclerotherapy, where a chemical is injected to close off the vein, to more extensive surgeries that involve removing veins from the body.
SOURCES: U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; Society for Vascular Surgery