Why are your veins misshapen?
You’ve probably seen someone with large, dark-colored veins in their legs. For some people, this the only issue, but for others, they also have pain from their enlarged veins. What causes your veins to do this? How is it treated? Can it be prevented?
When your veins are enlarged and twisted looking, it’s referred to as varicose veins. While it can happen anywhere on your body, it’s more likely to occur on your legs, especially your lower legs. This is the result of weakened or damaged valves within your veins. The valves are supposed to prevent your blood from backflowing on its return to your heart. When the valves aren’t functioning correctly, it can cause the blood to collect in the vein and this leads to them stretching and twisting. Your legs, especially your lower legs, are more susceptible because the veins are having to work against gravity. Usually, when your muscles contract and relax in your lower legs, it helps to pump the blood back to your heart. For most people, the symptoms are veins that are dark purple/blue and look twisted/bulging. Other people have pain can feel like an achy or heavy feeling in their legs. Sometimes the pain is described as a burning, throbbing or muscle cramping sensation. In either case, the pain can be worse after sitting or standing for long periods of time. These individuals also typically have itching and skin discoloration around the affected veins. A subset of varicose veins are spider veins. These are very similar, but just smaller because they are found closer to the surface of your skin. They usually are red/blue-colored and vary in size. They get their name because they look like a spider’s web. They are most often found on the legs, but can appear on your face.
Certain things can increase your risk of developing varicose veins. Some factors you can’t control, such as your age. The likelihood of acquiring them increases as you age due to wear and tear on your valves. Being a woman also places you at a higher risk. This is thought to be related to female hormones, which can relax vein walls. Having a family history of varicose veins intensifies your chances of getting varicose veins. Other factors, you have more control over, like pregnancy, how much you weigh and how sedentary you are. The increased blood volume during pregnancy can give rise to varicose veins. Being overweight puts extra pressure on your veins. If you spend a significant amount of time sitting or standing, your blood doesn’t flow that well. Complications are rare, but can occur. There are three main issues. Painful ulcers can arise on your skin near varicose veins. They are more likely to form near your ankles and you’ll likely see a discolored area before the ulcer emerges. If the veins deep within your legs are affected, you are at higher risk of developing blood clots. The veins close to the surface of your skin may also burst and cause bleeding. It isn’t usually a large amount of bleeding, but it still requires being seen by a doctor.
There are several treatment options for varicose veins. The first is compression stockings. These are designed to squeeze your legs, which helps your body move your blood more efficiently. The compression strength of the stockings varies by type and brand. They are available at most pharmacies. There are lifestyle changes you can make that might be able to help. Since they are the same as prevention techniques, please see the next section. If these don’t work, there are several different procedures that can be done to get rid of the affected veins. All of them can be done on an outpatient basis. Since most of the veins are superficial, you don’t have to worry about the blood flow from your legs being affected because that is carried out by the larger, deeper veins. One procedure is sclerotherapy, which is when a solution or foam is injected into the veins. This causes them to scar and close up. This is very effective, but occasionally the same vein needs to be injected more than once. Laser treatments are used for small varicose veins and spider veins. It sends strong bursts of light into the vein through your skin. This makes the veins slowly fade and disappear. For larger veins, your doctor may put a catheter in the vein and use radiofrequency or laser energy to heat up the tip of the catheter. As the catheter is removed, the heat destroys the vein, which makes it collapse and seal shut. Another option is high ligation and vein stripping, which means the vein is tied off before its connection to a deep vein and then removed. A phlebectomy is when your doctor removes small varicose veins through tiny skin punctures. Numbing medicine is injected into the areas that are being punctured. If you have ulcers or other procedures haven’t worked, your doctor may recommend endoscopic vein surgery. This involves taking a small video camera and inserting it into the vein in your leg to be able to see it better. Once your doctor can visualize the vein, they know what they need to do to remove it. Note: If you experience varicose veins when you’re pregnant, they’ll like resolve on their own within 3 – 12 months after delivery.
There are several things that you can do to help reduce your chances of having varicose veins. One of the best ones is exercise because it can help keep your cardiovascular system in shape. It doesn’t have to be strenuous—walking is very beneficial. Eating a healthy diet is key too because it’ll compliment the exercise and allow you to lose any extra weight, which is another risk factor for developing varicose veins. So, it’s a win-win situation. It’s also important to avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time. Change your position frequently and take several breaks throughout the day to elevate your legs. Another vital thing to remember is to be cognizant of what you wear. Avoid tight clothing around your waist, groin and legs because it can restrict blood flow. For women, don’t wear high heels because they don’t allow for the natural movement of your calf, which helps to constrict and relax the muscles and this promotes blood return to your heart.
Varicose veins, for the most part, are an unsightly issue on your legs. For individuals who have pain associated with them, it’s more burdensome. The good news is that for either, there are solutions to make them go away. Also, by doing what you can, you can reduce your risk of developing them. If you have any questions or concerns about varicose veins, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Varicose Vein page at https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/varicose-veins