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Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins which most frequently appear in the lower legs, ankles, and feet. They appear as bluish, gnarled cords beneath your skin. For some, varicose veins are only a cosmetic concern, but for others, the veins can cause aching pain and discomfort and indicate more serious circulatory problems.
Spider veins are a similar condition, but are smaller and closer to your skin’s surface.
Varicose veins are a common problem, affecting up to 60% of Americans, but most often women. If the varicose veins cause no physical discomfort, no medical attention is necessary. But if symptoms like pain and achiness are present, untreated varicose veins can lead to phlebitis (inflammation of the veins), painful ulcers near the ankle, and blood clots which cause swelling in the leg.
What causes varicose veins
Arteries are the vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Veins return the blood to your heart, so the blood can be recirculated. This requires the veins in your legs to work against gravity. Muscle contractions in your lower legs act as pumps, and elastic vein walls help blood flow back to your heart. Tiny valves in your veins open as blood flows toward your heart, then close to stop blood from flowing backward. When these valves weaken, they allow blood to flow backwards and pool in your veins, causing the veins to become enlarged.
Varicose veins most often show up in the lower leg, foot, and ankle, because weight bearing increases pressure on the veins in the lower body, weakening the veins and causing them to lose elasticity.
Contributing factors to varicose veins
- Heredity– if your parents had varicose veins, your chance of having them is significantly greater
- Women are three times more likely to develop varicose veins than men. This is due to changes during pregnancy, premenstruation, menopause, or taking birth control pills
- Obesity – being overweight puts excessive pressure on your veins
- Aging – veins become less elastic as we age, and the valves weaken. This may cause blood to move backward and pool in your veins, enlarging the vein
- Circulatory disorders
- Standing for long periods doesn’t allow your blood to flow as well as it should
- Pregnancy increases the volume of blood in your body, but decreases the flow of blood from your legs to your pelvis – the side effect is the enlargement of veins in your legs and feet. Fortunately, varicose veins caused by pregnancy rarely need medical treatment and usually improve about 3 months after pregnancy
Symptoms of Varicose veins (cosmetic)
- Veins appear dark blue or purple
- Veins appear twisted and bulging
Symptoms that indicate need for medical attention
- An achy, sore, or heavy feeling in your legs or feet
- Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping, or swelling in lower legs or feet
- Pain increases after sitting or standing for long periods
- Itching or darkening of the skin around the veins
- Breaks in the skin around the veins
- A vein begins to bleed
- Skin ulcers or rash near your ankle (may indicate vascular disease)
- Skin on ankle or lower leg becomes thick and changes color
- Veins have become swollen, red, or tender to the touch
Treatment of Varicose Veins
Your podiatrist at PA Foot and Ankle Associates may recommend one or more of these treatments to manage your varicose veins:
At home prevention
- Avoid long periods of sitting or standing
- Elevate your legs periodically
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain an ideal body weight
- Avoid wearing high heels – flats tone your calf muscles and help improve bloodflow
- Eat foods low in salt and high in dietary fiber from whole grains. Include foods high in bioflavanoids like blueberries, blackberries, spinach, garlic and onions. These foods are shown to keep veins healthy
- Wear compression stockings available over the counter. Compression stockings steadily squeeze your legs, helping veins and muscles move blood more efficiently
- There are many choice for non-invasive and surgical treatments for varicose veins. Your foot and ankle surgeon will recommend the best solution for you.