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Varicose veins are veins that have become large and gnarled, causing blood flow difficulties as a result. Any vein is capable of becoming varicose, but certain veins are more likely than others to experience this condition. The legs and the feet are especially vulnerable to varicose veins because walking and standing upright both increase the level of pressure on the veins in the lower region of the body. Varicose veins are more or less a cosmetic concern for many people, but many people experience pain and aching due to varicose veins, and varicose veins can lead to much more serious problems including a high risk of circulatory issues when they are left without treatment.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications

Arteries are responsible for carrying blood throughout the body from the heart, then veins return the blood from the body back to the heart so that it may be recirculated. In order to return blood back to the heart, the veins in the legs have to work against gravity. There are muscle contractions in the legs that work as pumps, helping to return blood to the heart. There are tiny valves within the veins that open up as the blood flows toward the heart, then they close up so blood does not flow backward. The veins can lose elasticity and stretch, or the valves may become weak so that they allow blood to flow back into the veins where it is not meant to. The reason why the veins appear blue is because they contain blood that is deoxygenated, blood that is waiting to be recirculated through the lungs.

There are a number of complications that can occur as a result of untreated varicose veins. The most serious complications include severe pain and discomfort, circulation issues, ulcers and skin sores and blood clots. The veins deep within the legs are capable of becoming enlarged, causing severe leg swelling and the possibility of a blood clot. Because untreated varicose veins can cause severe complications, seeking medical consultation is essential.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests

In most cases varicose veins do not cause pain. Varicose veins typically appear as dark blue or purple veins that appear to be bulging or twisted like cords. There are some people who experience pain in their varicose veins. Symptoms associated with these varicose veins include a heavy or achy feeling in the legs, worsened pain upon sitting or standing for too long, muscle cramping or burning and throbbing pain in the lower legs, itching around a vein and skin ulcers near the ankle which can indicate a serious complication known as vascular disease.

The physician will begin with a physical exam of the patient both while sitting and standing. When the patient is standing, the physician will be looking for swelling. Physicians also commonly use ultrasound scanning to make sure that the valves in the veins are all normally functioning as well as to check for blood clots. Ultrasound is a non-invasive test that utilizes sonography to view images of the veins in the legs on a monitor, allowing them to be viewable by the physician.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention

There are different avenues that a patient can take when it comes to treating varicose veins. Self care including losing weight, exercising, elevating the legs and avoiding long periods of standing or sitting can all help to alleviate some of the issues pertaining to varicose veins. Compression stockings can help to reduce swelling from varicose veins and prevent them from getting worse. Compression stockings are available in different strengths depending on how much compression is necessary. For more severe varicose veins, physicians can recommend sclerotherapy, catheter-assisted vein therapy, vein stripping, laser surgery, ambulatory phlebectomy and endoscopic vein surgery.