Varicose veins afflict between 25 and 40 million Americans – two-thirds of them women – with uncomfortable and unsightly veins. When valves fail to function properly, blood leaks through, causing a backwards flow in your legs. The blood overfills and distends the superficial veins under the skin, resulting in symptomatic varicose veins – a condition known as chronic venous insufficiency. Left untreated, chronic venous insufficiency can cause more advanced disease including leg ulcers, which can be very difficult to treat.
The vascular system is comprised of the heart, arteries, and veins. Veins are blood vessels that return blood from the body to the heart. To overcome the force of gravity, inside the veins are one-way valves, which open to allow blood flow to the heart, and close to prevent reflux of blood back to the body. When the valves fail to function, or if the vein is compromised so the valves do not completely close, blood can begin to pool in the vein causing a host of complications.
It is not fully understood why the valves in your veins weaken as some people develop the condition for no apparent reason.
- Standing occupations
- Clotting in vessels
- Bleeding and skin changes with eventual ulceration
Prolonged sitting and or standing should be avoided. If you have a standing profession or if you find yourself standing for an extended amount of time, shift your weight from leg to leg or wear compression hose. When sitting for more than 30 minutes, try to elevate the legs above heart level. If that is not possible, stand up and walk around for a few minutes before sitting again. Also, consider the use of compression hose.
Varicose veins are large, rope-like veins when are often one-quarter inch or larger in diameter and possess diseases valves. They sometimes appear to twist and bulge. Some people with varicose veins will not experience any pain or discomfort while others are more severely affected – a condition known as chronic venous insufficiency.
Symptoms that have been associated with chronic venous insufficiency/varicose veins of the lower extremities include:
- Aching and uncomfortable "fatigued" legs
- Feeling of heaviness in the legs
- Swollen feet and ankles
- Throbbing or burning in your legs
- Itchy, dry and thin skin over the affected vein
- Brownish skin changes
- Muscle cramping in your legs (particularly at night)
- Bleeding and/or ulceration
Typically if you have these symptoms, they are exacerbated by standing up for long periods of time and will be worse in warm weather.
Varicose veins most often develop on the legs, usually on the back of your calf or on the inside of your leg. Although they can sometimes appear in other parts of your body, such as:
Venous disease becomes more common as we age. One out of two people age 50 and older are affected with varicose veins. As we get older, our veins start to lose their elasticity, and the valves within them stop working as well.
Women are more likely to be affected by varicosities than men. Research suggests that this may be because female hormones promote relaxation of the vein walls, making the valves more prone to insufficiency.
You are more likely to develop varicosities if a family member has venous disease.
Being severely overweight increases the pressure on your veins requiring them to work harder in order to send blood back to your heart. This can put increased pressure on the valves making them more prone to reflux.
The amount of blood in a woman's body increases when pregnant to help support her growing baby. This puts an extra strain on her circulatory system. Additionally, research has shown that the increased hormone levels reached during pregnancy also cause the blood vessels to relax making the valves prone to reflux. As the uterus (womb) starts to grow, the additional pressure on the vessels in the pelvic region can lead to varicose veins. Although being pregnant may increase your risk of developing varicose veins, most women will find their condition improves considerably after pregnancy.
Research suggests that jobs, which require long periods of standing, may increase your risk for varicose veins. When you are standing for long periods of time, blood does not flow as easily from the extremities to the heart.