Varicose veins are swollen, bulging veins that protrude from the surface of the skin often with a blue or purplish color. They commonly have a rope-like or cord-like appearance on the skin. Varicose veins are extremely common, affecting up to 15 percent of men and up to 25 percent of women in the United States.
The word ‘varicose’ comes from the Latin root ‘varix’ which means twisted. While veins anywhere in the body can become varicose, the veins most affected by varicose veins are those in the legs (often on the backs of calves or inside of legs). This is due to the larger pressure exerted on these veins from sustained standing, walking or other factors.
While varicose veins are often unsightly and do cause cosmetic concerns, they can cause very significant symptoms and also be indicative of underlying vein disease, which may progressively get worse if not treated. Varicose vein symptoms (aside from the bulging veins) may include painful varicose veins, leg heaviness, leg fatigue, swelling, skin discoloration, itching and burning.
Cause of Varicose Veins
Blood circulates through the body and the extremities via a system of arteries (which carry blood away from the heart) and veins (which carry the blood back). To facilitate the return trip of blood towards the heart, veins typically have a series of one-way valves. As we age (and due to a series of other risk factors including heredity, pregnancy, obesity etc.), these valves can begin to fail, allowing blood to flow backwards. This often occurs as the elasticity in the vein wall weakens, the vein distends, and the valve leaflets can no longer function properly.
When this valve failure (or venous reflux) occurs in veins of the leg, the blood flows backwards (or back down the leg) and pools in the veins of the lower leg. This increased blood pressure causes the veins to bulge or swell, and may cause fluid to leak outside the vein (causing generalized swelling in the ankles and feet). Since the blood in these veins is deoxygenated, it often makes the varicose veins appear blue in color.
Without treatment, this increased pressure within the legs can progress to cause additional valve failure (causing the varicose veins to ‘grow’ up or down the leg), skin color changes, and in its worst case, non-healing venous ulcers.
Painful varicose veins can be treated with a number of safe and effective options. Only a trained vein specialist can determine the extent and severity of any vein disease you may have, so consult with a surgeon to learn more