October 2022

Varicose Veins: More Than a Cosmetic Problem?

Bulging, twisted varicose veins can make you self-conscious about baring your legs. Sometimes, they limit more than your fashion choices. In certain cases, varicose veins can lead to more serious conditions.

Your veins, explained

The veins in your leg have a tough job. They must work against gravity to shuttle blood from your lower limbs back up to your heart. Sometimes, the one-way valves that keep blood moving in the right direction weaken or malfunction. As a result, blood backs up and your veins expand, swell, and twist beneath your skin’s surface.

As many as 25 million Americans have varicose veins. Risk increases:

  • With age

  • During pregnancy

  • In heavy people

  • Because of prolonged sitting or standing

  • In people who have a family history of venous diseases

Heed these warning signs

Sometimes, varicose veins have no other symptoms. But they can cause:

  • A heavy or tired feeling in the legs

  • Throbbing or cramping pain

  • Swollen legs

  • Discolored, tingling, burning, or itchy skin

  • Open wounds called venous leg ulcers

See your healthcare provider if you have these signs. They will do tests to check whether your varicose veins prevent blood from traveling back up to your heart. This condition, called chronic venous insufficiency, may affect as many as 40% of adults. Many need treatment to avoid leg ulcers or other serious complications.

Treatment improves blood flow

Lifestyle changes can help, even if your varicose veins don’t cause pain. Your provider may recommend:

  • Taking frequent breaks from standing or sitting

  • Elevating your legs frequently and not crossing them

  • Exercising regularly to promote blood flow and muscle tone

  • Opting for nonrestrictive clothing

  • Wearing compression stockings

Medical treatments can improve the appearance of varicose veins and treat chronic venous insufficiency. Options include:

  • Laser, heat, or chemical therapies that close off the veins

  • Surgery to remove veins close to the skin’s surface

  • Vein stripping. During this procedure, a surgeon ties off and removes one of the larger veins through an incision in your groin. Only people with severe cases of varicose veins usually get this treatment, which requires a longer recovery time.

 

 

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2022
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