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Varicose Veins

 

It is important to understand what causes varicose veins (varicose leg veins) and spider veins. Furthermore, it is critical that you understand that varicose veins and spider veins are more than just a cosmetic issue and may represent a significant underlying problem that deserves treatment.

As you learned in high school, arteries carry blood away from the heart and veins carry blood back to the heart.  Just as water always flows downhill, blood always flows from high to low pressure.  The pressure in the arteries is high while the pressure in the veins is low.  This system works well when you are lying down, but when you are standing, the blood in the veins of your legs must flow against the force of gravity back to your heart.  This causes pressure to build up in the veins in the legs.  Your body overcomes this problem with a combination of one-way valves and a pump.

The valves are within your veins and the muscles in your leg act as a pump. When the muscles contract, the blood is forced back to the heart.  The one-way valves prevent the blood from returning when the muscle relaxes.  Sometimes the valves malfunction, which leads to venous reflux disease.  This venous reflux causes the vein wall to weaken.  As the vein dilates, the valves cannot close. The pressure can build up over time and cause varicose veins.

 

Varicose veins

 
 

Several factors can increase your likelihood of developing varicose and spider vein problems:

                          • Hereditary factors                     • Lack of Exercise
                          • Pregnancy                                • Obesity
                          • Birth Control                             • Prolonged Sitting or Standing
                          • Aging                                        • Hormone Replacement Therapies

 

The superficial veins just under the skin drain by way of one-way valves into the deep veins.  When these valves break down, the contracting muscle can force blood under high pressure into the superficial veins.  This can cause pain and over time can cause varicose and spider veins.  Compression stockings can support wall of varicose veins and help blood flow back to the heart.  They may help with the pain and aching of varicose veins and may slow down the progression of the disease, but they are a varicose vein treatment and not a cure.  Varicose veins are permanently damaged and must be treated properly by an experienced vein specialist in order to receive a cure.

Pain in the legs is frequently related to varicose veins.  The bulging of the walls gives rise to discomfort.  Symptoms include feelings of fatigue, heaviness, aching, burning, throbbing, itching and cramping.  These symptoms often are accompanied by swelling, which frequently appears later in the day after long hours of standing.

Additional risks of untreated venous insufficiency include deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal event.  Patients with venous insufficiency may complain of aching, fatigue, itching or restless legs.  Symptoms worsen at the end of the day.  Relief is obtained with leg elevation, support stockings and pain medication.  Because symptom onset is gradual, this disease may take years or decades to become apparent.  All too often patients and physicians alike defer seeking care.

Vein disorders are not always visible, and diagnostic techniques are important tools in determining the cause and severity of the problem.  History and physical examination and the use of noninvasive diagnostic tests such as Doppler and Ultrasound are used to diagnose and evaluate the extent of vein disease.

 
 

What happens if varicose veins are NOT treated?

 

Most of patients with true varicose veins have symptoms of discomfort, and many have some ankle swelling.  In general, not treating your varicose veins just means they will continue to worsen.  As the disease progresses, swelling of the ankle becomes a more prominent symptom.  The disease can cause deterioration of the health of the skin, with thickening, darkening, and easy skin breakdown and non-healing sores.  These sores are called venous ulcers and are very painful.  These ulcers continue to grow in size and cannot be healed permanently until the backpressure in varicose veins affecting these ulcers is fixed.

 
Varicose leg veins

 

Varicose veins, especially larger ones, can spontaneously clot.  The clotted varicose veins are tender, red, and warm to touch.  This condition is called superficial phlebitis.  Often varicose veins cause thinning of the overlying skin to the extent that rubbing against a sheet or with a washcloth results in bursting of the vein.  This results in very impressive bleeding.

Often varicose veins are accompanied with blood clots in deep veins that can cause serious life-threatening condition and might result in fatality.

 

If you have varicose veins, it is crucial that you are timely seen by an experienced vein specialist who could properly diagnose you and select the best treatment plan to address your individual needs.

 

Learn more about the Treatment for Varicose Veins >>