Varicose Veins

By: Samantha Kearney

Description of Disease

Varicose veins are twisted, swollen veins that can be seen right below the skin. They are most common in the legs, but can also occur in other parts of the body. Veins have one way valves that help blood flow toward the heart. When valves get weak or damaged, blood can pool in the veins and this causes vein swelling, which leads to varicose veins. A milder form of varicose veins is called spider veins.

Symptoms

  • large veins that can be seen under the surface of skin
  • mild swelling of ankles and feet
  • painful, achy, or heavy feeling legs
  • itchy legs
  • discolored skin in area surrounding the varicose vein

Causes

Weak or damaged valves cause varicose veins. Weak veins walls may cause weak vein valves. Vein walls are normally elastic, but if they lose their elasticity, they become overstretched. This causes the veins to get wider and causes the valves to separate. When this happens, blood can flow backward down the vein. This causes the twisting and swelling appearance of varicose veins.

Treatments

Varicose veins can be treated with lifestyle changes and medical procedures. Lifestyle changes are usually attempted first, but more severe symptoms are usually treated with medical procedures. LIfestyle changes include avoiding sitting or standing for long periods of time and avoiding crossing legs. Raising legs above the level of heart, increasing physical activity, and losing weight can also help. Tight clothes and high heels can worsen the symptoms of varicose veins. Compression stockings are usually recommended by a doctor to help alleviate symptoms. If these do not work, medical procedures are the next step. Medical procedures either remove the veins or close them. Sclerotherapy uses liquid chemicals to cause irritation and scarring inside a vein which causes the vein to close off. Microsclerotherapy is the same process, but is more commonly used for smaller spider veins. Laser surgery applies light from a laser to the vein which causes it to fade away. This is usually used for smaller veins, and it is beneficial because no cutting or injecting is necessary. During endovenous ablation therapy a doctor inserts a catheter into the vein and heats up the inside of the vein in order to close it off. Endoscopic vein surgery is similar except no heat is used. Instead, a thin tube and camera are inserted in the vein and then a surgical device at the end closes the vein off. Ambulatory phlebectomy is done to remove small veins near the surface of the skin. Vein stripping and ligation is usually used only for severe cases of varicose veins. This is when veins are tied shut and removed through small cuts in the skin.


Prevention

Varicose veins can be prevented by the lifestyle changes mentioned in treatments.

Hereditary Disorder

Varicose veins are genetic. Having family members with varicose veins raises one's risk for the conditions. About half of all people who have varicose veins have a family history of them. As one ages, the risk for varicose veins increases. Women tend to get varicose veins more often than men and it is common for women to get varicose veins during pregnancy. Excess weight, lack of movement, and leg trauma can also cause varicose veins.

Diagrams