Conditions We Treat: Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are swollen, bluish, twisted veins just beneath the surface of your skin. They most often appear in the legs or feet, mainly because standing and walking increase the pressure in the veins of your lower body.

Normally, one-way valves in your leg veins keep blood moving back towards the heart. But when the valves don't work properly, blood pools inside the vein instead of flowing upwards from one valve to the next. As a result, the vein swells and becomes varicose.

Varicose veins are usually harmless, causing only a cosmetic concern for some people. But sometimes they can cause problems such as leg swelling, pain, blood clots and skin changes.

Most varicose veins occur near the surface, but on rare occasions an interior vein can become varicose, causing a more serious problem.

Spider veins are a common, mild variation of varicose veins that appear as patches of smaller flooded capillaries. Varicose veins can be felt by touching, but spider veins usually can't. 

Risk Factors

Varicose veins are more common in women than men, and for many people they're a family trait. Other common risk factors include:

  • Pregnancy, which increases the volume of blood in your body but decreases the flow of blood from your legs to your pelvis to help support the growing fetus.
  • Aging, which causes the valves in your veins that regulate blood flow to become more elastic, reducing their effectiveness.
  • Obesity, which puts additional pressure on your veins.
  • Standing or sitting for long periods of time, which can hinder circulation.

Symptoms

Many people with varicose veins don't experience any symptoms other than the noticeable appearance of swollen, bluish veins. If you do experience symptoms, these might include:

  • A feeling of fullness, heaviness or aching in the legs
  • Cramping, throbbing or burning in the lower legs
  • Itching
  • Mild swelling of feet or ankles

More severe symptoms might include:

  • Leg swelling
  • Leg or calf pain after sitting or standing for long periods
  • Skin color changes in the legs or ankles
  • Dry, irritated, scaly skin
  • Skin sores that don't heal easily

Treatment

Varicose veins can be treated to help slow their progression and manage symptoms. Common treatment techniques include:

  • Wearing compression stockings all day to decrease swelling
  • Raising your legs above your heart while sleeping and sitting
  • Losing weight
  • Getting more exercise, which helps improve circulation
  • Avoiding sitting or standing for long periods without a break

In more serious cases, a doctor might recommend treatments such as:

  • Sclerotherapy, in which salt water or a chemical solution is injected into the vein, causing it to harden and disappear
  • Ablation, in which heat from a laser or other method is used to close off and destroy the vein
  • Surgical removal of a varicose vein