Varicose Veins (Enlarged Leg Veins)

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are a condition marked by the presence of enlarged and tortuous veins in the lower legs and feet although any veins may be affected. It is one of the most common leg circulation problems in women. Varicose veins usually arise because of damage to the valves in the veins which regulate the direction of the blood flow.

Usually varicose veins do not produce any serious symptoms apart from cosmetic concerns but sometimes the condition may be associated with increased pain, ulcer formation on the overlying skin and bleeding problems. Varicose veins are more common in elderly women with a family history of varicose vein. Treatment options include use of compression stockings and sometimes surgery in more severe cases of varicose veins.

Varicose Veins Symptoms

In most  patients varicose veins do not produce any symptoms other than the appearance of twisted, bulging, thick, cord-like purple or blue veins on the feet and lower legs. In some cases varicose veins may also cause a heaviness in the lower legs, a burning and throbbing sensation along with cramping of the leg muscles and even swelling of the lower legs. Usually the pain becomes worse during prolonged sitting or standing.

Initially the skin over othe affected veins becomes discolored which over time progresses to an ulcer adjacent to the ankle. There is increased chance of formation of blood clot due to damage in the wall of the affected blood vessel. The blood clot may get dislodged and travel through the blood stream to vessels of other body parts. These clots can block the other vessels leading to damage of different organs.

The skin overlying the affected vein becomes itchy with visible changes in the skin. The skin becomes shrunken, hard with irregular white patches and spider veins. Bleeding may occur at the affected site when the engorged vein becomes injured.

Causes of Varicose Veins

Veins carry deoxygenated blood from different organs to the heart. The pressure within the veins are lower than in the arteries. The veins especially those present in the lower limbs must return the deoxygenated blood to the heart against the force of gravity. The muscles of the lower limbs and valves of the veins play important roles in pumping the blood to the heart. Damage to these tiny valves may lead to varicosity of the veins.
Common causes of damage to these valves include :

  • Age. With aging the veins lose elasticity and there is damage to the valves leading to varicosity of the veins
  • Pregnancy. Increased pressure of the uterus on the abdominal vein may hamper the flow of blood from the lower limbs to the heart thereby leading to varicose veins

Risk factors

  • Family history.
  • Women are at a greater risk.
  • Prolonged standing or sitting.
  • Obesity.
  • Injury to the leg and vein in particular.
  • Infections of the leg.

Varicose Veins Treatment

Mild cases of varicose veins may not require any definitive medical treatment and lifestyle changes along may be sufficient. Treatment options include :

  • Lifestyle changes include weight reduction, avoiding wearing tight clothes and avoiding prolonged sitting or standing.
  • Wearing compression stockings.
  • Sclerotherapy by injecting substances in the veins that will permanently damage the veins and obliterate it.
  • Laser surgery, vein stripping and endoscopic vein surgery.


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