Varicose veins are swollen, twisted veins that normally occur in the legs. Because they are just under the surface of the skin, they can have a very noticeable appearance in the form of small and thin purple lines or thick and bulging lines. Patients might also notice a heavy feeling in the legs, throbbing or swelling of the legs, and itching or bleeding around the vein.
Typically, varicose veins are not a serious condition. However, sometimes they can cause ulcers near the veins, blood clots that cause the leg to swell, and bleeding due to bursting skin. They are also a sign of venous insufficiency, a condition in which the legs cannot probably circulate blood back up to the heart.
The veins in the legs work hard against gravity to return blood back to the heart. A normal vein has a tight one-way valve that prevents blood from flowing backward after each pump of the heart. In people with varicose veins, these valves are weakened, causing them to lose their elasticity and become longer and wider. This lets blood flow backward, causing the veins to bulge and swell.
This change to the veins can be caused by a number of factors, including age or pregnancy. Additionally, major risk factors include being a woman, having a family history of varicose veins, sitting still for too long, and obesity.
Patients can try a few remedies on their own to reduce varicose veins. These include exercising, losing weight, elevating the legs on a frequent basis, avoiding tight clothing, and not sitting for too long — all these methods may prevent varicose veins from worsening. Compression stockings also help squeeze together the veins, which helps them transfer blood easier.
If these methods do not work, the doctor may recommend a number of medical treatments, including sclerotherapy and laser surgery to reduce the appearance of veins by closing them, endoscopic vein surgery to surgically close veins, and vein stripping and ambulatory phlebectomy to remove veins.