Varicose veins are abnormal, dilated blood vessels caused by weakening in the vessel wall. They may appear as swollen, twisted clusters of blue or purple veins and are sometimes surrounded by thin red capillaries known as spider veins (group of small blood vessels located close to the surface of the skin). Spider veins may also be called venous telengiectasias.
Varicose and spider veins can appear anywhere, but most often appear on the legs and in the pelvic area. Most varicose veins develop near the surface of the skin. Deeper varicose veins may cause the skin above them to swell, become darker or hard.
Symptoms of Varicose Veins
Some people do not have symptoms but may be concerned about the appearance of the veins. If symptoms occur, they may include:
Who Gets Varicose and Spider Veins
- Swollen legs
- Muscle cramps, soreness or aching in the legs
- Tiredness, burning, throbbing, tingling or heaviness in the legs
- Soreness behind the knee
- Itching around the vein
- Brown discoloration of the skin, especially around the ankles
- Symptoms often worsen during prolonged standing or sitting. In women, symptoms may be worse during menstruation or pregnancy. Occasionally varicose veins can form a painful blood clot, referred to as superficial phlebitis (inflammation of a vein).
Varicose veins are common and are usually not a sign of a serious medical problem. Varicose and spider veins are seen more often in women than in men. They become more prevalent with age and have been reported to affect from 30-60% of the adult population.
What Causes Varicose and Spider Veins?
Varicose veins occur when healthy vein walls become weak and swell, causing blood to back up and pool inside the vein. Varicose veins are also related to increased pressure in the leg veins or defective valves in the veins.
The exact cause of varicose veins is unknown, but there are a number of factors that contribute to the development of varicose and spider veins, including:
When Is Treatment Necessary
- Advancing age
- Prolonged standing (especially for people who work in occupations such as nurses, beauticians, teachers, factory workers and other)
- Being overweight
- Hormonal influences during pregnancy
- The use of birth control pills
- Post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy
- Prolonged sitting with legs crossed
- Wearing tight undergarments or clothes
- A history of blood clots
- Injury to the veins
- Conditions that cause increased pressure in the abdomen including liver disease, fluid in the abdomen, previous groin surgery, or heart failure
- Other reported factors include topical steroids, trauma or injury to the skin, previous venous surgery and exposure to ultra-violet rays.
Varicose and spider veins may not require medical treatment. If varicose veins make walking or standing painful, you should call your doctor for advise. You should also call your doctor if a sore develops on or near a varicose vein or if your feet or ankles swell.
How Are Varicose Veins Diagnosed
During a physical exam, the doctor will check your legs while you are standing. Your doctor also may request that you have a Doppler scan, an ultrasound exam to check the blood flow in the veins near the skin's surface (called superficial) and deep veins.
Treatment Options for Varicose and Spider Veins
The goals of treatment are to reduce symptoms and prevent complications. Since not all varicose and spider veins require medical treatment the goal of treatment may be simply to improve the appearance of the affected areas.
Conservative Treatment Options
Natural Alternative for Varicose Veins
- Compression stockings are properly fitted support hose that are worn especially when having symptoms.
- Good skin hygiene
- Lose excess weight
- Exercise regularly (especially walking)
- Avoid prolonged periods of sitting or standing
- Keep your legs elevated while sitting and sleeping
- If you must stand for long periods of time, take frequent breaks to sit down and elevate your feet
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