Blue, swollen varicose veins can transform once fetching legs into unsightly road maps.
What are varicose veins?
You have valves in your veins that keep the blood flowing properly back to your heart. When they become defective, the blood pools, making the veins swell and twist. They are found in legs more often than any other part of the body. They usually aren’t serious, but they can sometimes lead to other problems.
Women are more prone to varicose veins than men. Obesity, pregnancy, and standing for a long time can contribute to the problem.
- Blue, swollen, twisted legs you can see through skin; aching, made worse by prolonged standing; swollen feet and ankles; itching
- Fullness, heaviness, aching, and sometimes pain in the legs
- Visible, enlarged veins
- Mild swelling of ankles
- Brown discoloration of the skin at the ankles
- Skin ulcers near the ankle (this is more often seen in severe cases)
In normal veins, valves in the vein keep blood moving forward toward the heart. With varicose veins, the valves do not function properly, allowing blood to remain in the vein. Pooling of blood in a vein causes it to enlarge.
This process usually occurs in the veins of the legs, although it may occur elsewhere. Varicose veins are common, affecting mostly women.
- Defective valves from birth (congenitally defective valves)
- Thrombophlebitis (swelling/inflammation of a vein caused by a blood clot)
Standing for a long time and having increased pressure in the abdomen may make you more likely to develop varicose veins, or may make the condition worse.
Primary varicose veins occur because of congenitally defective valves, or without a known cause. Secondary varicose veins occur because of another condition, such as when a pregnant woman develops varicose veins.
When to contact a doctor
Varicose veins are achy, painful, and even dangerous because of possible blood clots. Before anything else, see your doctor.
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of thrombophlebitis. Call your health care provider promptly if thrombophlebitis symptoms do not improve with treatment, if symptoms get worse, or if new symptoms occur (such as an entire limb becoming pale, cold, or swollen).
Treatment is usually conservative. You will be asked to avoid excess standing, raise your legs when resting or sleeping, and wear elastic support hose.
You may need treatment to improve the appearance of your legs. Surgery may be recommended, such as:
- Vein stripping and removal of the varicose vein (ligation)
- Sclerotherapy of veins
Vein stripping is usually reserved for patients who are experiencing a lot of pain or who have skin ulcers
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