Rina feels self-conscious about the enlarged purple veins on her legs. Shopping for clothes is always a challenge. She couldn’t wear shorts or short skirts because of the prominent varicose veins on both her legs. She can live with the mild discomfort but she’s more bothered by the unsightly and angry-looking veins.
Cosmetic concern is often a big issue when varicose veins are concerned. Rina wonders why she developed abnormally thick veins and if there’s a way to get rid of them. Here are some facts about varicose veins.
What are varicose veins?
A healthy vein carries deoxygenated blood back to your heart and lungs. Tiny valves that open and close to let blood course through prevents blood from going the wrong way. Weakened or damaged valves have a hard time functioning properly. Blood may collect in the vein, causing it to swell and expand; a condition called varicose veins.
These abnormal veins are usually blue or dark purple in color. They may appear bulging or twisted. According to Mayo Clinic, any vein has the potential of becoming varicose, but it is more common in your legs and feet.
Who are at risk of developing varicose veins?
Not everyone develops varicose veins. It affects up to 3 in 10 adults based on statistics shared by NHS. People who spend considerable time standing up and walking are more prone to varicose veins because these activities put extra pressure on the veins in the lower body. Women are more at risk to develop varicose veins compared to men.
Some examples of professions that are prone to varicose veins include:
- Doctors, nurses and medical staff who are always on their feet helping patients
- Sales attendants and other retail employees in shopping malls who spend their shift standing up and assisting customers
- Waiters and waitresses who are busy waiting on customers and cleaning after them
- Hairstylists who cut and style people’s hair while standing up
- Security guards who stand for long hours on duty
What are the causes of varicose veins?
Some experts claim that varicose veins can be inherited. It is also possible to be born with weak veins.
Mayo Clinic explains that some pregnant women develop varicose veins during pregnancy because the volume of blood in the body increases but the flow of blood from the legs to the pelvis decreases. The condition may worsen during the latter part of pregnancy when the uterus puts pressure on the veins on the legs. The condition may improve within three to 12 months after giving birth without the need for medical treatment.
Old age can also increase probability of varicose veins. The veins become weak as you grow older, making it difficult to stop the blood from flowing backward. As a result, the blood may accumulate in the veins and become swollen. The enlarge veins become varicose.
Other factors that can cause or worsen varicose veins are obesity and prolonged straining (e.g. due to chronic constipation, chronic cough, etc.).
What are the signs and symptoms of varicose veins?
The following are signs and symptoms that may indicate varicose veins.
Varicose veins may not cause pain. Common signs of varicose veins:
- Dark purple or bluish veins
- Swollen or bulging veins that appear like cords on your legs
In some cases, varicose veins can be painful. The pain may be accompanied by the following signs:
- Achy or heavy feeling in the legs
- Cramping, burning sensation, or throbbing in the lower legs
- Heightened pain after long periods of sitting or standing
- Tenderness or pain in the veins
- Itchiness around the area of the veins
- Bleeding from varicose veins
- Redness and swelling
- Discoloration, hardening of the vein, inflammation of the skin, dryness of the skin, ulcers of the skin near the ankle
How are varicose veins diagnosed?
If you suspect that you have varicose veins, you can set an appointment with your doctor. The physician will perform a physical exam to look for swollen or painful veins particularly in your legs. The doctor may ask you if you experience any discomfort, pain or achy feeling in your legs.
The doctor may request for an ultrasound test to determine if the valve in the veins are working normally or if there’s presence of blood clot.
How are varicose veins treated?
According to NHS, most cases of varicose veins do not require medical treatment. However, treatment may be needed for the following situations:
- When varicose veins are causing pain or discomfort
- When there is presence of skin ulcers, swelling or skin discoloration
- When the individual wishes treatment for cosmetic reasons
To prevent varicose veins from aggravating, it is advisable to exercise regularly, lose weight, elevate your legs when you’re not busy, and avoiding prolonged standing or sitting. These self-care tips can help ease the pain and discomfort caused by varicose veins.
The physician may first recommend wearing compression stockings (specially designed stockings that tighten the legs to improve blood circulation) all day before trying other treatments.
Individuals suffering from more severe varicose veins may consider the following treatment options:
- Foam sclerotherapy of large veins
- Laser surgeries
- Catheter-assisted procedures using radiofrequency or laser energy
- High ligation and vein stripping
- Ambulatory phlebectomy
- Endoscopic vein surgery
How to prevent varicose veins?
Regular physical exercise can help control weight and prevent development of varicose veins. Realsimple.com recommends low-impact activities such as swimming and biking to keep your leg muscles fit. It is also advisable to wear flats rather than heels because they cause less strain on the legs. When you get home from work, make it a habit to sit with your legs up higher than your heart to help drain blood that may have collected in your legs. Do this for around 10 to 15 minutes.
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