Varicose veins are blood vessels that are abnormally dilated. Weakened blood vessel walls and incompetent valves within the vein cause this disorder, which appear like clusters of purple or blue veins.
Smaller discolored capillaries can form less severe spider veins, which are tiny, thin vessels seen close to the skin’s surface. Some patients exhibit a combination of spider veins and varicose veins. Either way, they are unsightly and no one wants problem veins showing on their lower extremities, which is the most likely location for them to appear.
What are the warning signs of varicose veins?
Some people do not have warning symptoms that varicose veins are actually developing. For those who do, the most common symptoms include:
- A feeling of heaviness in the legs
- A throbbing, tingling or burning sensation in the legs
- Leg tiredness
- Swollen legs or ankles
- Itching sensation around the involved veins
- Muscle cramps in the legs
- Discoloration of the skin, especially a brown discoloration around the ankle area
- Thin, dry skin around the area of the varicose vein
- Skin scaling
- Inflammation in the area of the tortuous vein
- Developing leg ulcers
A less likely development associated with varicose veins is the evolution of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This occurs when varicose veins cause pooling of blood and a clot develops.
Who gets varicose veins?
The risk of developing varicose veins increases with advancing age. Roughly 30 to 50 percent of adults are diagnosed with varicose veins. They affect more women than men in the adult population.
Women are more susceptible to developing varicose veins due to the amount of progesterone in their body. Progesterone has a relaxing effect on vessels and increases a woman's risk. The hormonal cycles of puberty, pregnancy and menopause add to the progesterone fluctuations throughout life, as does taking birth control pills.
Contributing factors that put a person at risk of developing varicose veins include:
- Advancing age
- Being female
- Heredity and a family history of varicose veins
- Being overweight (because of the additional pressure it puts on the lower extremity veins)
- Hormone therapy, whether from birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy or the hormone fluctuation that occurs during pregnancy because of the increase in progesterone production
- Prolonged periods of standing
- Prolonged periods of sitting, especially with legs crossed
There are many options available to treat varicose veins of varying severity. The choices range from wearing gradient compression stockings, sclerotherapy, laser treatment or traditional surgery to strip and remove the vein. It is important to be evaluated by a vein specialist. At that time, the care provider will discuss the best treatment option based upon individual symptoms.
Are you at risk?
It is important to be aware of your physical symptoms and what they may mean. The wide variety of sensations felt in the lower extremities can be an early indication of developing varicose veins.
While varicose veins are not usually a serious medical problem, they can be uncomfortable and unsightly. Proper medical treatment can remedy the problem and relieve the nagging symptoms.
Reviewed February 10, 2017