Varicose veins are enlarged bulging veins that are known for their distinctive dark purple or blue color or ropy appearance under the skin. Some varicose veins are without color.
The valves within healthy veins open and close to ensure that that blood flows only in one direction. When these valves no longer work correctly, blood may flow backwards or accumulate in the veins, and the buildup of pressure causes a bulging appearance.
People with varicose veins often experience pain in the limbs. This pain can be dull and throbbing, or severe. In the worst cases, the veins may rupture or ulcers may form. Both of these situations require medical treatment.
Varicose veins afflict an estimated one third of the adult population, according to the latest studies. In the United States, that translates into 20-25 million people, the majority of whom are women.
- Aching legs and swollen ankles that can lead to moderate discomfort
- Dry and itchy skin in the affected area (venous eczema)
- Heavy-feeling legs, particularly at night or after exercise
- Injuries that result in lengthened bleeding in the affected area
- Irregular white patches at the ankles
- Leg cramps when standing up
- Lipodermatosclerosis (shrinking of the skin caused by hardening of the fat under the skin)
- Restless leg syndrome
- Ropey and bulging looking veins
- Spider veins in the affected area, often accompanied by a discoloration of the skin to a shiny, darkened color
- Swollen and twisted veins that are green, purple or blue in color
Varicose veins can be found in many parts of the body:
- Rectum (as hemorrhoids)
- Age: Varicose veins are far more likely to develop in old age
- Genetics: Varicose veins are often passed down genetically, so check your family history
- Obesity: People who are severely overweight have a much higher chance of developing varicose veins, the risk increasing with the severity of the obesity
- Pregnancy: During the gestational period, there is far more pressure exerted on the circulatory system due to an increase in blood in the body. The blood vessels can also relax due to a change in hormones during pregnancy, encouraging blood to pool in the veins
- Sex: Females are more prone to varicose veins
- Work habits: If you spend a large proportion of your day stood up then the risk of developing varicose veins is increased
Diagnosing varicose veins
A simple visual examination can determine if varicose veins are present. Your health care provider will also ask questions about your family health history as well as any personal history of deep vein thrombosis or injuries to the legs.
An ultrasound can determine whether your veins are functioning correctly.
Treatment for varicose veins
Treatment for varicose veins is necessary if ulcers are present or if the veins are causing considerable discomfort. Treatment can also be carried out for cosmetic reasons, where veins are prominent and unsightly.
Specialist health care providers at Arizona Vein and Vascular Center offer the following treatments for varicose veins:
- Compression stockings to improve return blood flow. The stockings encourage a healthy flow of blood from the ankle to the groin, and compression is gradually reduced
- Cosmetic procedures
- Ligation (stripping and removing veins). The process involves making two incisions into the leg, and then sealing and removing the problematic vein
- Sclerotherapy, which utilizes a chemical injection to close the vein
- Surgery under general anesthetic to remove unsightly varicose veins
- VNUS Closure® procedure