Varicose veins are a common disorder that affects around 23% percent of adults in the United States, of which women are nearly twice as likely as men to develop them. These veins typically show themselves as swollen, twisted veins on the legs and feet, though it is possible to find them elsewhere on the body in rare occasions. Although varicose veins are mostly a superficial concern, they can also cause pain and discomfort as they hinder circulation to the affected appendages.
Why do they occur?
A disease known as superficial venous insufficiency is the root cause of varicose veins. Ordinarily, tiny valves in your veins open to let blood flow to the heart before closing. This causes a one-way street for your blood and prevents any backflow. For those suffering from venous insufficiency, those valves are broken, which lets blood clot in the veins. This leads to an increase in pressure and makes the veins seem like they are bulging outwards, while also causing pain and swelling.
What are the symptoms of varicose veins?
Although varicose veins are usually visible, and thus easy to diagnose, at times they may also infect interior veins in your legs. Many people with varicose veins say they feel an ache or cramp, that their legs feel heavy or lead-like, or that there is a tingling or burning sensation in their legs. Varicose veins may also cause swelling, throbbing, and are tender if touched. Although they are usually harmless, the disease may progress and cause more serious health problems, including:
- Blood clots
- Skin ulcers
Who is at risk for developing varicose veins?
Any activity that puts undue pressure on the legs or abdomen increases the likelihood of developing varicose veins. Most commonly, obesity, pregnancy, and jobs that require standing for long periods of time increase your risk, though chronic constipation or tumors can also play a part. An inactive lifestyle may also lead to varicosity because the muscles in your legs are not prepared to pump blood. Age also plays a role in developing varicosity, as veins weaken with age. Leg injuries and genetics may also increase the likelihood of getting varicose veins.
How are varicose veins treated?
While most cases of varicose veins are harmless and do not require a visit to the doctor, they are unappealing at best, and dangerous to your health at worst. If you’re suffering from discomfort due to your varicose veins, you may need treatment.
A doctor may prescribe any of several treatment options, such as compression stockings or pantyhose that are designed to put pressure on your leg muscles; this encourages upwards blood flow starting at your ankles and moving up your body. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin can also be used to help mitigate pain and swelling.
In some cases, a doctor may recommend removing your varicose veins altogether. This may be achieved through laser treatment, in which a small beam of light is focused on the veins to cause it to eventually disappear. Unfortunately, even after treatment, there is no guarantee that other veins will not become varicose, and you may need several treatments over your lifetime.
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