Varicose veins are swollen, twisted, and enlarged veins that you can see under the skin. They are often red or blue in colour. They most often appear in the legs, but can occur in other parts of the body.
There are two main systems of veins in the legs:
Deep veins: The leg muscles squeeze the deep veins during walking, carrying most of the blood back up the legs to the heart.
Superficial veins: These occur under the skin which are less important and can form varicose veins.
All of these veins contain one-way valves to ensure that the blood flows towards the heart. Failure of these valves allows blood to flow backwards down the veins and results in an overload of pressure when standing. This excess pressure leads to widening of the veins so that they do not close properly. Blood then flows back into the leg along these veins and causes varicose veins to develop. Raised pressure in these veins also encourages the development of spider veins and discoloured areas which look like bruises.
Varicose veins are most common in older adults, particularly women, and occur especially on the legs. Varicose veins can cause cramping pain and movement problems, or they may simply be a cosmetic concern.
Varicose veins are caused by weakened valves and veins in your legs. Normally, one-way valves in your veins keep blood flowing from your legs up toward your heart.When these valves do not work as they should, blood collects in your legs, and pressure builds up. The veins become weak, large, and twisted.
Women are more likely to suffer from varicose veins and up to 50% of women may be affected. Hormonal factors including puberty, pregnancy, menopause, the use of birth control pills, and HRT affect the disease.
Risk factors include:
Being female (hormonal changes from puberty, pregnancy, and menopause can lead to varicose veins, and taking birth control pills or hormone replacement can increase your risk).
Being born with defective valves.
History of blood clots in your legs.
Standing or sitting for long periods of time.
Family history of varicose veins.
Varicose veins look dark blue, swollen, and twisted under the skin. Some people do not have any symptoms. Mild symptoms may include:
Heaviness, burning, aching, tiredness, or pain in your legs. Symptoms may be worse after you stand or sit for long periods of time.
Swelling in your feet and ankles.
Itching over the vein.
Serious symptoms include:
Swelling and calf pain after you sit or stand for long periods of time.
Skin changes, such as:
Dry, thinned skin.
Open sores, or you may bleed after a minor injury.