Did you know that over 25 million people suffer from symptomatic varicose veins in the United States? Varicose veins are often mistakenly thought to be only a cosmetic condition when, in fact, they are usually a symptom of a more serious condition, called Venous Reflux Disease or Venous Insufficiency. This is a condition that progressively damages the valves of the vein and can cause long term complications, while also cosmetically disfiguring the leg.
Varicose veins, also called vein or venous disease, is a condition of the veins in the leg in which the veins become swollen, giving a bumpy and twisted appearance. Varicose veins can cause pain, leg swelling and long term damage.
Varicose veins happen when the veins in the legs do not work properly. Normally, the veins in the legs carry blood from the legs back to the heart. The veins have tiny valves inside them to help keep blood moving in only one direction (toward the heart). The valves open to let blood flow to the heart, and close to keep it from flowing back down the leg. Vein disease can happen when the valves are damaged or do not work well (this is called Venous Insufficiency). This causes blood to collect in the veins of the legs. Blood is especially likely to collect in the legs when people sit or stand for a long time without walking.
Symptoms of vein disease
For many people, there are few, if any, symptoms. However, if you have any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor.
- Leg pain, or the leg feeling tired, achy, or heavy; this often progresses throughout the day and with prolonged standing.
- Swollen veins – “Varicose veins” are larger leg veins (just under the skin) that are swollen and twisted, have a “squishy” and bumpy appearance.
- “Spider veins” are small leg veins that are swollen and often have a purple appearance.
- Swelling in the lower legs or ankles – People can have swelling at the end of the day or all the time.
- Skin color changes – The skin can turn red or red-brown. Skin color changes often happen first around the ankle.
- Open sores, also called “venous ulcers” – These are usually at the ankle and can be painful and ooze.
What causes vein disease?
Veins have one-way valves, preventing your blood from flowing backwards. When these valves fail, your blood collects in your vein rather than continuing to your heart. Varicose veins often affect the legs because they are the farthest from the heart and gravity makes it harder for the blood to flow upward. Causes of varicose veins include:
- A blood clot in a leg vein (called a DVT-- deep vein thrombosis); this can have long term effects even after the blood clot has resolved.
- Leg injury.
- Being pregnant more than once – This causes a change in hormone levels that can weaken vein walls; also the pressure of the baby in the uterus on the veins in the pelvis can cause varicose veins.
- Weight gain.
- Family genetics as vein disease does tend to run in families.
How are varicose veins diagnosed?
Your doctor or nurse will do an exam to look at your legs. He or she might also do a test called an ultrasound. An ultrasound is a test in which a ultrasound technician presses a plastic wand against your leg, creating an image of the inside using sound waves. They look specifically at the valves in the veins to determine if there is Venous Insufficiency (poorly functioning valves); this test can also see if any of the veins in the legs are blocked.
Learn more about our screenings and diagnostic tests.
Vein Ablation Treatments
Vein ablation treatments are treatments designed to destroy superficial veins with abnormal valve function. These treatments are usually reserved for people with symptoms that cannot be managed with lifestyle changes. Veins are destroyed in one of three ways and have specific post-surgical care needs.