As many as 40 million Americans suffer from varicose veins, swollen veins that can be seen just under your skin's surface. Most commonly found in the legs or pelvic area, varicose veins are abnormal, dilated blood vessels that often look blue, bulging and twisted. Sometimes varicose veins are surrounded by thin red capillaries called spider veins.
Varicose Veins Symptoms and Diagnosis
Veins have one-way valves to channel blood back to your heart. Varicose veins develop when a vein’s valve becomes weakened or damaged, allowing blood to pool in the vein. This enlarges the vein and it often becomes visible just below the skin.
Weakened or damaged vein valves can be caused by:
- High blood pressure inside the superficial leg veins
- Standing for long periods of time
- Weakness in the walls of the veins
The most common symptoms of varicose veins include:
- Heavy, tired, restless or achy feelings in your legs
- Leg cramps that occur at night
- Small visible clusters of veins in a winding pattern on your legs, or soft, tender knots of veins
- Skin changes on your legs, such as color change, irritation or sores
These symptoms can become worse after standing or sitting for long periods of time. Other symptoms may include:
- Veins visible through the skin, appearing enlarged, twisted and swollen (and sometimes blue)
- Leg cramps
- Burning or throbbing in the legs
- Swollen legs
- Swollen ankles and feet
- Soreness behind the knee
- Sores, known as venous ulcers, that develop in severe cases
- Family members with varicose veins
- Gender: Nearly 50 percent of women ages 40 and 50, and about 75 percent of women ages 60 to 70 have varicose veins
- Hormonal changes, such as with pregnancy or menopause
- Pressure on the veins of the pelvis, as with pregnancy or constipation
- Working at a job that requires standing on your feet for long periods of time
- Wearing knee-high socks or stockings with tight elastic
- Previous leg injury
- Use of birth control pills
- Post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy
- History of blood clots
While varicose veins can be easily seen in most cases, your doctor may also order an ultrasound of your leg veins to confirm the diagnosis.
Sometimes, varicose veins are only a minor inconvenience. Treatment may or may not be needed. However, varicose veins can lead to more serious problems and get worse over time.
Wearing compression stockings can be an initial treatment option to try to relieve any symptoms you have. Otherwise, treatment may include minimally invasive or surgical procedures, such as:
- Saphenous vein thermal ablation (Veinefit): a nonsurgical procedure using catheters to apply radiofrequency energy that shrinks and closes diseased varicose veins.
- Microphlebectomy surgery: a minimally invasive procedure using tiny incisions to remove large varicose veins that are located close to the skin’s surface.
- Vein stripping: a surgical procedure to tie off major varicose vein branches associated with your saphenous vein, the main superficial vein in your leg. The saphenous vein is then removed.