Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Varicose Veins

Definition

Varicose veins are enlarged and swollen veins. They’re most common in the legs, but can happen anywhere.

Varicose Veins
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Causes  ^

Veins have one way valves to channel blood back to the heart. Damage to the valves causes blood to pool in the veins. This causes them to get bigger. They’re also easier to see under the skin.

Risk Factors  ^

Varicose veins are more common in women. Your chances are also higher if you:

  • Are older
  • A family history
  • Go through hormonal changes
  • Put pressure on the veins of the pelvis—can happen with pregnancy
  • Are overweight
  • Work in a job that where you sit or stand for long periods of time
  • Smoke

Symptoms  ^

Common problems include:

  • Enlarged, twisted, and swollen veins that you can see
  • Achy, tired, or a heavy feeling in the legs
  • Leg cramps
  • Burning or throbbing pain in the legs
  • Itching
  • Swollen legs

Skin changes may result in:

  • Rashes
  • Discoloration
  • Sores that are hard to heal

Diagnosis  ^

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. Your answers and a physical exam may point to varicose veins. In some cases, a Doppler ultrasound may be done.

Treatment  ^

Care may involve:

Lifestyle Changes

To start out, your doctor may advise:

  • Not standing or sitting for long periods of time.
  • Resting with your legs raised above your heart.
  • Moving your legs around when standing or sitting for long periods of time.
  • Wearing compression stockings. They may help improve blood flow in your legs.

Procedures

Procedures are done if other care methods fail to work:

  • Laser or light source energy to seal, collapse, and dissolve varicose veins
  • Sclerotherapy—a chemical is injected to shrink the veins
  • Radiofrequency ablation—collapses and seals varicose veins
  • Endovenous mechanochemical ablation—closing varicose veins with a rotating wire and chemical agent
  • Adhesive sealing—sealing veins close to the skin using an adhesive agent
  • Surgery—banding and removing affected veins

Prevention  ^

To lower your chances of varicose veins.

  • Lose excess weight if you need to.
  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Don’t stand or sit for long periods of time. Move around when you can.
RESOURCES:

American College of Phlebology
http://www.phlebology.org

Society for Vascular Surgery
https://vascular.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Society for Vascular Surgery
https://vascular.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Varicose veins. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116699/Varicose-veins. Updated March 30, 2018. Accessed July 11, 2018.

Varicose veins. Society for Vascular surgery website. Available at: https://vascular.org/patient-resources/vascular-conditions/varicose-veins. Accessed July 11, 2018.

Varicose veins and spider veins. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/varicose-veins-and-spider-veins. Updated March 16, 2018. Accessed July 11, 2018.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC  Last Updated: 7/11/2018