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Varicose veins are gnarled, enlarged veins. Any vein may become varicose, but the veins most commonly affected are those in your legs and feet. That's because standing and walking upright increases the pressure in the veins of your lower body. For many people, varicose veins and spider veins — a common, mild variation of varicose veins — are simply a cosmetic concern. For other people, varicose veins can cause aching pain and discomfort. Sometimes varicose veins lead to more-serious problems. Varicose veins may also signal a higher risk of other circulatory problems. Treatment may involve self-care measures or procedures by your doctor to close or remove veins.
Complications of Varicose Veins
Complications of varicose veins, although rare, can include:
Causes of Varicose Veins
Arteries carry blood from your heart to the rest of your tissues. Veins return blood from the rest of your body to your heart, so the blood can be recirculated. To return blood to your heart, the veins in your legs must work against gravity. Muscle contractions in your lower legs act as pumps, and elastic vein walls help blood return to your heart. Tiny valves in your veins open as blood flows toward your heart then close to stop blood from flowing backward.
Causes of varicose veins can include:
Signs & Symptoms of Varicose Veins
Varicose veins usually don't cause any pain. Signs you may have varicose veins include:
Varicose veins may also form in other places on your legs, from your groin to your ankle.
When painful signs and symptoms occur, they may include:
Spider veins are similar to varicose veins, but they're smaller. Spider veins are found closer to the skin's surface and are often red or blue. They occur on the legs, but can also be found on the face. Spider veins vary in size and often look like a spider's web.
Diagnosis of Varicose Veins
Treatments of Varicose Veins
Fortunately, treatment usually doesn't mean a hospital stay or a long, uncomfortable recovery. Thanks to less invasive procedures, varicose veins can generally be treated on an outpatient basis. Self-care — such as exercising, losing weight, not wearing tight clothes, elevating your legs, and avoiding long periods of standing or sitting — can ease pain and prevent varicose veins from getting worse. Compression stockings also may help.
Wearing compression stockings is often the first approach to try before moving on to other treatments. Compression stockings are worn all day. They steadily squeeze your legs, helping veins and leg muscles move blood more efficiently. The amount of compression varies by type and brand. Stockings come in a variety of strengths, styles and colors. With the variety offered, you're likely to find a stocking that you're comfortable wearing. You can buy compression stockings at most pharmacies and medical supply stores. Prices vary. Prescription-strength stockings also are available. When purchasing compression stockings, make sure that they fit properly. Using a tape measure, you or your pharmacist can measure your legs to ensure you get the right size and fit according to the size chart found on the stocking package. Compression stockings should be strong, but not necessarily tight. If you have weak hands or arthritis, getting these stockings on may be difficult. There are devices to make putting them on easier. If you don't respond to self-care, compression stockings, or if your condition is more severe, your doctor may suggest one of these varicose vein treatments:
Endoscopic vein surgery. You might need this operation only in an advanced case involving leg ulcers. Your surgeon uses a thin video camera inserted in your leg to visualize and close varicose veins, and then removes the veins through small incisions. This procedure is performed on an outpatient basis.
Varicose veins that develop during pregnancy generally improve without medical treatment within three months after delivery.
Prevention of Varicose Veins
There's no way to completely prevent varicose veins. But improving your circulation and muscle tone can reduce your risk of developing varicose veins or getting additional ones. The same measures you can take to treat the discomfort from varicose veins at home can help prevent varicose veins, including:
When to seek Medical Advice
Self-care — such as exercise, elevating your legs or wearing compression stockings — can help you ease the pain of varicose veins and may prevent them from getting worse. But if you're concerned about how your veins look and feel and self-care measures haven't stopped your condition from getting worse, see your doctor.
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