Varicose Veins

Definition

Varicose veins are enlarged and distended veins. They can occur anywhere in the body, but are particularly common in the pelvis and legs.

Varicose Veins

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Causes

Veins have one way valves to channel blood back to the heart. Varicose veins develop when the valves of the veins become damaged. This causes blood to pool in the veins, enlarging them and often making the veins just beneath the skin visible.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for varicose veins include:

  • Family members with varicose veins
  • Sex: female
  • Age: childbearing age and older
  • Hormonal changes, as with puberty, pregnancy, or menopause
  • Pressure on the veins of the pelvis, as with pregnancy or an abdominal tumor
  • Overweight
  • Working at a job that requires standing on your feet for long periods
  • Wearing knee-high socks or stockings with tight elastic
  • Previous leg injury

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Veins visible through the skin, appearing enlarged, twisted, and swollen
  • Achy, tired, heavy feeling in the area of the varicose veins or generally in the legs, especially after standing
  • Leg cramps
  • Burning or throbbing pain in the legs
  • Itching
  • Swollen legs
  • In severe cases, skin changes below the area of the varicose veins, including:
    • Rashes
    • Discoloration
    • Sores that are difficult to heal (ulcers)

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Varicose veins can be easily seen. Initial diagnosis can be done during a simple physical examination. Your doctor may also wish to order an ultrasound examination of your leg veins.

Treatment

Treatment Options

  • Sclerotherapy—injecting the varicose veins with a chemical to shrink the veins
  • Radiofrequency occlusion—collapses and seals varicose veins by using radiofrequency energy
  • Laser or light source therapy—laser or light source energy used to seal, collapse, and dissolve varicose veins
  • Surgery—banding and removing varicose veins (only for severe cases)

Lifestyle Changes

  • Avoid standing for long periods of time.
  • Don't wear footwear that interferes with circulation.
  • Rest with your legs elevated.
  • Wear lightweight compression stockings. Wearing these may help improve circulation in the leg veins.

Prevention

Varicose veins can't necessarily be completely prevented, especially if they run in your family. The following recommendations may help prevent varicose veins:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Don't wear socks or stockings with tight elastic around your legs.
  • Try to avoid regularly standing for long periods of time.

RESOURCES:

American College of Phlebology
http://www.phlebology.org

American Society of Plastic Surgeons
http://www.plasticsurgery.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
http://www.csaps.ca/

Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery
http://csvs.vascularweb.org/

References:

American College of Phlebology website. Available at: http://www.phlebology.org .

Primary Care Medicine . 4th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000.



Last reviewed January 2008 by Ganson Purcell Jr., MD, FACOG, FACPE

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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