Varicose veins are swollen, twisted veins you can see just under the surface of the skin. These veins usually occur in the legs, but they also can form in other parts of the body. Varicose veins are common and usually cause few signs or symptoms. In some cases, varicose veins may cause complications, such as mild to moderate pain, blood clots or skin ulcers.
Problems related to varicose veins
A number of vein problems are related to varicose veins, such as telangiectasias, spider veins, varicoceles, and other vein problems.
Other types of varicose veins include venous lakes, reticular veins and hemorrhoids. Venous lakes are varicose veins that appear on the face and neck. Reticular veins are flat blue veins often seen behind the knees. Hemorrhoids are varicose veins in and around the anus.
Weak or damaged valves in the veins can cause varicose veins. After your arteries deliver oxygen-rich blood to your body, your veins return the blood to your heart. The veins in your legs must work against gravity to do this. One-way valves inside the veins open to let blood flow through and then shut to keep blood from flowing backward. If the valves are weak or damaged, blood can back up and pool in your veins. This causes the veins to swell.
Weak valves may be due to weak vein walls. When the walls of the veins are weak, they lose their normal elasticity. They become like an overstretched rubber band. This makes the walls of the veins longer and wider and causes the flaps of the valves to separate. When the valve flaps separate, blood can flow backward through the valves. The backflow of blood fills the veins and stretches the walls even more. As a result, the veins get bigger, swell and often get twisted as they try to squeeze into their normal space. These are varicose veins.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of varicose veins include:
Signs of telangiectasias are red clusters of veins that you can see on your skin. They are usually found on the upper body, including the face. Signs of spider veins are red or blue veins in a web pattern that often show up on the legs and face. See your doctor if you have these signs and symptoms. They also may be signs of other, sometimes more serious conditions.
Sometimes varicose veins can lead to dermatitis, an itchy rash. If you have varicose veins in your legs, dermatitis may affect your lower leg or ankle. Dermatitis can cause bleeding or skin ulcers if the skin is scratched or irritated.
Varicose veins also may lead to a condition called superficial thrombophlebitis. Thrombophlebitis is a blood clot in a vein. Superficial thrombophlebitis means that the blood clot occurs in a vein close to the surface of the skin. This type of blood clot may cause pain and other problems in the affected area.
Doctors often diagnose varicose veins based on a physical exam alone. Sometimes tests or procedures are done to find out the extent of the problem and to rule out other disorders. If you have varicose veins, you may see a vascular medicine specialist or vascular surgeon. These are doctors who specialize in blood vessel conditions.
Your doctor may recommend a Doppler ultrasound to check blood flow in your veins and to look for blood clots. A Doppler ultrasound uses sound waves to create pictures of structures in your body. During this test, a handheld device will be placed on your body and passed back and forth over the affected area. A computer will convert the sound waves into a picture of the blood flow in your arteries and veins.
Although rare, your doctor may order an angiogram to get a more detailed look at the blood flow through your blood vessels. For this procedure, dye is injected into your veins. The dye outlines your veins on x-ray images. An angiogram can help your doctor confirm whether you have varicose veins or another problem.
Varicose veins are treated with lifestyle changes and medical procedures. The goals of treatment are to relieve symptoms, prevent complications and improve appearance. If varicose veins cause few symptoms, your doctor may suggest simply making lifestyle changes. If your symptoms are more severe, your doctor may recommend one or more medical procedures. For example, you may need a medical procedure if you have significant pain, blood clots or skin disorders as a result of your varicose veins.
Lifestyle changes often are the first treatment for varicose veins. These changes can prevent varicose veins from getting worse, reduce pain and delay other varicose veins from forming. Lifestyle changes include the following:
Your doctor may recommend compression stockings. These stockings create gentle pressure up the leg. This pressure keeps blood from pooling and decreases swelling in the legs.
Medical procedures are done either to remove varicose veins or to close them. Removing or closing varicose veins usually doesn't cause problems with blood flow because the blood starts moving through other veins.
You may be treated with one or more of the procedures listed below. Common side effects after most of these procedures include bruising, swelling, skin discoloration and slight pain. Side effects are most severe with vein stripping and ligation. Although rare, this procedure can cause severe pain, infection, blood clots and scarring.
-National Institutes of Health