Swollen Veins: What Causes Them and What Can Treat Them

Updated on: October 24, 2018

Many conditions can cause bulging or swollen veins. In some cases, these are only a cosmetic problem but other times, they are a sign of a more serious medical condition.

If you are concerned about swollen veins, contact your doctor to find out what is causing them. If you experience sudden swelling of your veins along with pain, ulcers, chest pain or shortness of breath, seek prompt medical care. This could be signs of a blood clot or peripheral vascular disease.

Conditions That Cause Swollen Veins

Varicose veins. One common cause of swollen veins is varicose veins and spider veins. Varicose veins appear swollen and distorted, and are dark purple or blue in color. They can occur anywhere on the body but most often show up on the legs and feet. They can also be painful, especially after sitting or standing for a long time. Spider veins are a milder version of varicose veins and may appear on the face as well as the legs.

Venous insufficiency. Veins have valves inside that keep the blood from flowing backward. When these are not working properly, blood may pool and cause the vein to swell. This condition is called venous insufficiency. It also involves a weakening of the vein walls. It generally affects the deeper veins of the legs but can also cause veins on the surface to swell (varicose veins).

Pregnancy. Some women experience swollen veins during pregnancy. In fact, pregnancy is one of the major risk factors for varicose veins. This happens because the total volume of blood in the body increases during pregnancy. In addition, increased pressure on the veins slows the flow of blood toward the heart.

Older age. As people grow older, their veins may become weaker and more elastic. This makes it more difficult for the veins to push the blood toward the heart. As a result, the blood pools and causes the veins to swell.

Thrombophlebitis. Swollen veins can be a sign of a blood clot blocking a vein, usually in the legs. Thrombophlebitis can affect veins on the surface (superficial) or deep veins. A blood clot in a deep vein can loosen and travel to the lung where it can cause a pulmonary embolism, a very serious medical condition.

Treatments for Swollen Veins

The treatment for swollen veins depends upon the conditions that cause them. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, your doctor can outline the treatment options.

In the case of varicose veins and spider veins, several treatments are available. Varicose veins that occur during pregnancy often clear up three to 12 months after the baby is delivered. Other types of varicose veins can be treated with:

  • Lifestyle changes - Exercising more, watching your weight, elevating your legs frequently and avoiding sitting or standing for long periods can reduce symptoms of varicose veins.
  • Compression stockings - These special stockings are available at pharmacies and medical supply stores. They work by squeezing the legs to help the leg muscles and veins move blood more easily toward the heart.
  • Sclerotherapy - In this treatment, your doctor injects a special solution into your varicose veins to cause them to scar and close. The blood then flows through other healthier veins.
  • Laser surgery - A surgeon uses bursts of light to close off smaller varicose veins and spider veins. The varicose vein will fade until it disappears, all without needles or incisions.
  • Vein stripping - During this procedure, the surgeon makes several small incisions in your skin and then removes the varicose vein through these cuts. This will not affect your blood circulation because the blood can still flow through deeper veins in your leg.
  • Ambulatory phlebectomy - This is similar to vein stripping, except the surgeon removes smaller varicose veins through several tiny punctures in the skin. This is usually done as an outpatient procedure.
  • Endoscopic vein surgery - This procedure is for more advanced cases of varicose veins that also include leg ulcers. The surgeon will insert a very small video camera in your leg to look at and close the varicose veins. The veins are then removed through several small cuts.
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