Varicose Vein - Basics

Varicose veins are abnormally widened veins that are swollen, dark and frequently twisted instead of straight. They are more common in the superficial veins (just under the skin) than the deep veins (embedded deep in the muscles), although they can occur in either location. Varicose veins are often noticeable at the back of the calf and thigh and may be surrounded by groups of flooded capillaries called spider veins.

The valves within the vein are responsible for keeping blood flowing in the proper direction. This is particularly important as the veins are counteracting the effects of gravity. The valves prevent blood from flowing towards the feet. Leaky or damaged valves can cause blood to pool in the legs, resulting in swollen, varicose veins.

Risk factors include:

  • Genetics
  • Pregnancy, especially during the first and last trimesters
  • Obesity
  • Deep vein thrombosis or clots in leg veins
  • Advanced age
  • Remaining standing for prolonged periods

Signs and symptoms of varicose veins in the legs may include:

  • Swelling in the lower legs, especially around the ankles
  • Burning, throbbing or itching around the bulging vein
  • A heavy or achy feeling in the legs
  • Skin changes
  • Ulcers and bleeding
    • A leg ulcer is an open sore on the lower part of the leg that is usually small, close to the skin and very painful because of exposed nerve endings. A physician can often see or feel a varicose vein close to the ulcer.
  • Restless legs

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