Enlarged and twisted veins that lie close to the surface of the skin characterize this condition. Varicose veins typically occur in the legs and feet. They may cause pain and cosmetic concerns.
Varicose veins result from a failure of tiny valves inside the veins of the legs. In healthy veins, these valves help move blood out of the legs and back to the heart. But if these valves do not function properly, they can allow blood to flow backwards and pool within the veins. This excess blood increases pressure in the veins. It causes them to enlarge.
Risk factors may include increased age, genetic predisposition, obesity, and occupations that require standing or sitting for long periods of time. Women are more likely than men to develop varicose veins. Hormonal changes associated with pregnancy, menopause or birth control pills may increase this risk.
A common symptom is the appearance of bulging, twisted blue or purple veins along the calves and thighs. These veins may ache, burn or throb. They may itch, and the muscles in the legs may cramp. Pain may increase after long periods of sitting or standing. In severe cases, ulcers may also appear on the skin near the ankle.
Varicose veins may be treated with lifestyle modifications such as exercise, weight loss and avoiding activities that cause symptoms to worsen. Compression stockings can help keep blood from pooling in the legs. A physician may recommend treatment options such as sclerotherapy, laser surgery, or catheter-assisted procedures to shrink and close enlarged veins. Problematic veins can also be completely removed from the body through small incisions. If ulcers have developed, antibiotics and pain medication may be prescribed.