Varicose veins are enlarged or swollen veins in the legs, feet and other parts of the body. However, they are typically found in the lower limbs. This condition is characterized by blue or purple looking veins caused by a pooling or blockage of blood. Veins may also bulge out of the skin and appear twisted.
Causes and Risk Factors
The many possible causes of varicose veins include:
- Pregnancy - During pregnancy, the weight of a growing fetus presses on vital arteries and veins. The pressure reduces blood circulation to the legs and feet. Although this may be a problem during pregnancy, it will usually go away after giving birth.
- Hormone changes - Hormonal changes during menopause and menstruation can contribute to this condition as well. The fluctuating hormones affect blood circulation throughout the body.
- Weight gain - Being overweight places undue stress on the legs, back and feet.
- Continuous sitting or standing - Sitting or standing for a long period of time can affect circulation. People who work in health care, manufacturing or similar types of jobs are affected.
- Vein elasticity - Elderly patients are more susceptible than others to elastic or loose veins. Age affects the elasticity and strength of each vein. This loss of elasticity compromises the blood flow from arteries and veins.
Signs and Symptoms
Most people will notice a difference in how their legs look and feel after rising from sitting or lying positions. They may experience an achy sensation in their legs as they attempt to walk. This sensation may occur throughout the day as well. Large, irregular bulges may be seen in the legs. The site may feel itchy or irritated.
Treatment options may include either surgical or nonsurgical methods. Nonsurgical methods are weight loss programs, exercise and the use of compression stockings. Compression stockings are used to improve circulation and control pooling blood or pain in the legs.
Surgical methods are generally invasive and require the skills of a vein specialist. These include:
- Laser surgery - This procedure does not use surgical instruments to remove varicose veins. It does, however, use laser technology to slowly fade away the damaged veins. Physicians do not typically use anesthesia in laser surgery.
- Vein stripping - This method requires making a surgical incision in the leg to remove the veins. The entire affected vein is pulled out.
- Endoscopic vein surgery - The endoscopic method is slightly more invasive than vein stripping. A small camera is placed in the surgical site through an incision in the skin. Physicians use the camera to locate the veins to be removed. Endoscopic surgery is used on conditions that have escalated to leg ulcers.
- Catheter procedures - This method requires a catheter to be placed in an incision. It heats up and destroys the damaged veins by collapsing them.
Most people can prevent circulation problems by managing their weight, eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. Elderly patients may consider compression hose or stockings to improve circulation. Elevating the legs when sitting or lying is good for alleviating stress on the lower extremities. It is also recommended that people avoid standing or sitting in the same position for more than an hour at a time. All of these methods may help prevent varicose veins and other circulation problems.