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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 carry blood back to the heart. Valves help the blood flow in the right direction. Varicose veins happen when these valves are damaged. The blood does not move as it should and pools in the veins. The extra blood stretches the vein and makes them bigger. They are also easier to see under the skin.

Risk Factors

Varicose veins are more common in women and older adults. Other things that increase the risk of varicose veins includes:

  • A family history
  • Hormonal changes
  • Extra pressure on the veins of the pelvis—can happen with pregnancy
  • Overweight
  • Job where you sit or stand for long periods of time
  • Smoking

Symptoms

Common problems include:

  • Enlarged, twisted, and swollen veins that you can see
  • Achy, tired, or a heavy feeling in the legs
  • Swollen legs

Skin changes may result in:

  • Rashes
  • Sores that are hard to heal

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may point to varicose veins. A Doppler ultrasound may also be done. It will help to show blood flow through veins.

Treatment

Varicose veins do not always need treatment. Steps that may help to ease pressure on the veins include:

  • 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.

Managing Symptoms

Compression stockings may help to ease symptoms. They may help improve blood flow in your legs. Further care may be needed if symptoms do not respond to other treatment. The veins may be blocked or shrunk with procedures such as:

  • 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

Steps to decrease the risk of varicose veins include:

  • 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 June 11, 2019. Accessed September 27, 2019.

Varicose veins. Society for Vascular surgery website. Available at: https://vascular.org/patient-resources/vascular-conditions/varicose-veins. Accessed September 27, 2019.

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 September 27, 2019.

Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC  Last Updated: 9/27/2019