Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins, near or raised above the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are often a symptom of an underlying condition called venous insufficiency.
Varicose veins do not occur suddenly. It usually takes years for signs and symptoms to develop. Genetics and inheritance usually play a role in the development of varicose veins but anyone can develop them even without a family history. If left untreated, varicose veins can cause changes to the surface of the skin which may lead to a venous leg ulcer.
Varicose veins are caused by broken valves inside the vein. They are common in people that have had certain types of leg injuries or deep vein blood clots as well as people that work in jobs that require prolonged standing or sitting.
In healthy veins, one way valves direct the flow of venous blood in your leg upward, toward your heart. When one or more of these valves fails to function, then the blood flows in the reverse direction causing the veins under the skin to engorge and distend. This “backup” of blood flow can increase the pressure in your veins to a level that is three to four times the normal. This high pressure then causes the veins to bulge and stretch resulting in inflammation and pain.
Varicose veins are common and are not generally associated with more severe health problems. However, they can be painful, unattractive and worsen over time. Varicose veins can cause legs and feet to swell, create a sense of fatigue in leg muscles, and throbbing and cramping at night. The skin surrounding the veins may also itch and burn. In some severe cases, venous insufficiency may develop, preventing normal blood return to the heart which can lead to problems like deep-vein thrombosis (blood clot). Patients with venous insufficiency often benefit from medical treatment. Left untreated, varicose veins can lead to swelling, increased pain, skin discoloration, and ulcerations of the lower legs. These ulcerations are difficult to treat and can become easily infected and painful. Many of these symptoms and complications can be prevented by early treatment of varicose veins.