Varicose veins are also called varicosities and varicoses. This type of vein occurs when the veins are overfilled with blood, dilated or enlarged. The enlarged and swollen veins most commonly appear on the feet and legs. The colour is generally dark purple or blue, with a twisted, bulging or lumpy appearance. There are small valves located inside of veins. When they stop working correctly, the result is the development of varicose veins.
When a vein is healthy, the blood flow to the heart is smooth. Tiny valves prevent blood from flowing backward by opening and closing. If the valves become damaged or weakened, the blood can start flowing backward and collect within the vein. Eventually, the vein will become enlarged and swollen. The risk of varicose veins developing increases if the individual is elderly, overweight or pregnant.
Types of Varicose Veins
The different types of varicose veins include:
Reticular Varicose Veins:
These veins are red and can group together to form a network.
Trunk Varicose Veins:
This type of vein is close to the skin’s surface. The veins are generally long, knobbly, thick and have an unpleasant appearance.
Telangiectasia Varicose Veins:
These veins are often referred to as spider veins or thread veins. The veins can appear on the legs or face in small clusters of red or blue veins. Spider veins are different than trunk varicose veins because they are harmless and do not cause bulges beneath the skin’s surface.
Symptoms of Varicose Veins
The most common symptoms of varicose veins include:
- Swollen ankles and feet
- Heaviness in the legs
- Swelling in the legs
- Muscle cramps in the legs, more frequent at night
- Pain, aches or discomfort in the legs
- A throbbing or burning sensation in either or both legs
- Thin, itchy and dry skin over the varicose vein
- Pain in the legs resulting from sitting or standing for long periods of time
Some of the other possible symptoms include restless legs, pain while walking and muscle cramps. Although rare, serious medical complications can result from varicose veins. If any of the following symptoms occur, an examination by a doctor should be performed immediately.
If a varicose vein is injured, the bleeding may be unable to be stopped by applying direct pressure. This is possible because varicose veins are closer to the skin’s surface and have more blood than a normal vein. If applying direct pressure does not stop the bleeding within a few minutes, a doctor is necessary.
Swollen and Painful Red Areas:
This can be a sign of a skin infection or blood clot. A doctor must be seen to determine the cause. An ultrasound will be used because the sound waves can detect blood clots located within the vein. If the leg is painful, red and swollen, it can be an extremely serious condition requiring evaluation and treatment.
There is a higher risk of blood clots forming in a painful red varicose vein. This can result in a condition referred to as thrombophlebitis. In some instances, the blood clot extends into the deep veins. This condition is dangerous and called deep vein thrombosis. If there are redness and pain surrounding a vein, it should be checked by a physician as soon as possible.
Ulceration can lead to the development of open sores unable to heal. This is because injuries have a difficult time healing due to the swelling.
Varicose veins can cause changes in the skin that do not go away such as colour changes and skin hardening.
When the weather turns warm, all of these symptoms can become particularly annoying. Higher temperatures often cause the blood vessels to dilate. This means the valves must work even harder to function correctly. Toward the end of the day, the symptoms become worse due to the amount of blood pooling in the ankles. Sitting or standing for long periods of time will aggravate the condition and result in more pain.
Causes of Varicose Veins
When veins function incorrectly, the result is generally varicose veins. The failing valves enable the collection of blood in the veins as opposed to traveling toward the heart. The result is enlarged veins. The legs are usually affected by varicose veins. This is because these veins are farthest from the heart so gravity makes it more difficult for the blood flow to move in an upward direction.
There is a fairly wide variety of potential causes for varicose veins. The most common include:
- Standing or sitting for a long period of time
- Genetic history of varicose veins
- Exceeding the age of 50
The risk of developing varicose veins increases if the individual:
- Is female
- Is elderly
- Has a close family member that has developed varicose veins
- Is overweight
- Works a job involving standing for long periods of time
- Is pregnant
- Has other specific health conditions
The diagnosis begins with an examination of the visible veins and legs by a doctor. For a proper diagnosis, the individual must be standing or sitting. The doctor will ask about any symptoms or pain the individual is experiencing. An ultrasound may be performed to check the blood flow. This test is non-invasive, uses high-frequency sound waves and shows the blood flowing through the veins.
Depending on where the varicose vein is located, a venogram may be conducted for a further assessment of the veins. This test involves a special dye being inserted by a doctor into the legs. X-rays are also taken of the area. The dye can be seen on the X-rays to provide the doctor with a much better view of the flow of blood. Tests including venograms and ultrasounds help make certain there is not another disorder.
Swelling and pain in the legs can also be caused by a different disorder such as a blockage or a blood clot. Testing is necessary to eliminate these possibilities.
Individuals with the Highest Risk
The development of varicose veins is very common, affecting three out of every 10 adults. Women have a greater risk of developing varicose veins than men. Approximately 23 percent of all adults have been impacted by this disease. Roughly 33 million of these individuals are older, between the ages of 40 and 80. A varicose vein can develop in any vein throughout the body.
Despite this, these veins are most commonly located in the feet, legs and calves. This is because additional pressure is placed on veins located in the lower body when a person walks or stands. The cause of these veins is a malfunctioning valve.
Varicose Vein Prevention
Little evidence is in existence showing varicose veins can be prevented from becoming worse or the development of new ones prevented. This begins said, there are ways the symptoms of varicose veins can be eased including:
- Avoid sitting still or standing for long periods of time. The recommendation is to walk around approximately once every 30 minutes.
- Exercising on a regular basis can help with the maintenance of a healthy weight while improving circulation.
- Regular breaks should be taken throughout the day. Discomfort can be eased by raising the legs and placing them on pillows to rest.
Sore Varicose Vein Relief
There are numerous different methods for relieving the pain resulting from varicose veins including:
Elevating the Legs:
The discomfort and pain of varicose veins can be relieved immediately simply by elevating the legs. The legs must be placed above the heart. The legs can be raised by getting into bed and resting them on three to four pillows, stretching them out against a wall or placing the feet on top of a table.
All of these methods make it easier for the blood to move in the direction of the heart. These positions enable more effective functioning of the venous valves. This is what will help ease the pain while decreasing the swelling.
Using Cold Water:
If the individual is experiencing pain in the legs toward the end of the day, taking a shower with cold water is a good option. Blood vessels will shrink when exposed to cool temperatures. This will help alleviate the feeling of heaviness, leg cramps, discomfort and swelling. Hot tubs and hot baths should be avoided since the effect on the veins is negative. Spending a lot of time in hot water can increase both the throbbing and the pain.
Stretching the Legs and Exercising:
Exercising and stretching the calf muscles for short periods several times a day is often helpful. The feet should be flexed frequently. This is very important when there is limited legroom and during long trips. If the individual is standing or sitting at their job, the position should be changed a minimum of once every 30 minutes with the knees bent regularly.
Physical movement and good hydration support the healthy circulation of the blood. This can be accomplished by moving around as much as possible and drinking plenty of water.
Just like with the majority of chronic conditions, prevention is critical. Symptoms including heavy legs and swelling can be prevented by wearing compression hosiery. This often eliminates the painful cramps frequently experienced at night and at the end of the day.
Compression stockings should be worn in the morning before any walking is done to receive the best possible benefits. Once there is blood pooling at the ankles, the effectiveness of compression hosiery to relieve achy and heavy legs drops substantially.
Wearing Appropriate Clothing:
Wearing tight clothing or high heels is not good for varicose veins. These items place a lot of pressure on certain areas of the body resulting in a constricted blood flow. Wearing comfortable clothing and shoes is important for anyone standing or walking for the majority of the day.
Varicose Vein Treatments
When treatment becomes necessary, the first recommendations are usually wearing compression stockings, elevating the feet while resting and exercising on a regular basis. If the varicose veins are still causing complications, discomfort or pain, there are several treatment options available. The most common include:
Special foam is used to close varicose veins.
Affected veins are sealed using heat.
Ligation and Stripping:
This is the removal of the varicose veins.
Medication can be prescribed by a physician as a helpful and safe way to find relief from the pain of varicose veins.
In some cases, surgery is used to remove the varicose veins or tie off the existing veins.
Minimally Invasive Treatments:
Some people are uneasy or nervous about having surgery, For these individuals, several different minimally invasive treatments not requiring surgery are available. Endovenous ablation and sclerotherapy treat varicose veins from the inside. Microphlebectomy is the process of making a tiny nick on the surface of the skin to remove varicose veins.
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