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What Are Varicose Veins?

Natan Rosenfeld Natan Rosenfeld March 30, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Varicose veins are veins that have become twisted or swollen. As they swell, they become more visible under the skin, taking on a blue or purple appearance. Varicose veins usually appear in the legs but can affect any part of the body including the stomach, testicles, and liver. They’re quite common; 20% of American adults live with the condition.

 

Varicose veins are not dangerous in most cases, but they can cause discomfort or pain in some people. Rarely, varicose veins can lead to complications. 

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Varicose Veins - Definition

Varicose Veins - Definition

What causes varicose veins?

 

Varicose veins form when vein valves become weak or damaged. In addition, varicose veins can be caused or exacerbated by high blood pressure resulting from obesity, constipation, tumor, or pregnancy. 

 

Various risk factors can increase your chances of developing varicose veins.

 

  • Being female. Women are more likely than men to have varicose veins. It’s thought that pregnancy and menopause play a role, due to changes in hormones. Contraceptive (birth control) medication can result in similar hormonal changes and could be a factor in the development of varicose veins.
  • Being older. While varicose veins can appear at any age, they’re most likely to affect older men and women due to vein valves breaking down.
  • Having certain genetic factors. Varicose veins can be hereditary, meaning they are passed down through genes. If you have a family member with the condition, your risk is increased.
  • Being obese or overweight. If you’re obese or overweight, your veins need to work harder to pump blood. As a result, the stress can cause them to become varicose.
  • Leading an inactive lifestyle. If you sit or stand a lot during the day, you’re at higher risk for varicose veins.

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Varicose Veins - Risk Factors

Varicose Veins - Risk Factors

How are varicose veins treated?

 

Unless varicose veins are symptomatic or likely to cause complications, treating them isn’t usually necessary. Of course, some people will opt to have them repaired for aesthetic purposes. Treatments can include:

 

  • Lifestyle changes. Staying active, losing weight, and wearing looser clothes can reduce discomfort caused by varicose veins.
  • Compression therapy. Compression therapy involves a type of stocking or bandage that is worn to put pressure on the legs and relieve pain or discomfort. 
  • Surgery. If varicose veins become too painful, surgical procedures can be done to close the vein. Some surgical options include ablation, sclerotherapy, or laser treatment. 

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Varicose Veins - Surgery

Varicose Veins - Surgery

Alternative ideas

 

If you are interested in trying some other ways to relieve the pain and pressure of varicose veins, you can look into the following:

 

  • Elevation. Lying down with your legs propped up above your heart may help relieve some of the pressure and pain with varicose veins in the legs. A yoga pose called Viparita Karani or “Legs up the Wall” can help.
  • Diet changes. Cutting down on salty foods can help relieve water retention, which, in turn, can help reduce swelling in the legs. Adding potassium-rich foods such as nuts and leafy greens can also help reduce water retention. Foods that are high in fiber can relieve constipation, which can worsen veins by causing straining. 

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Varicose Veins - Prevention

Varicose Veins - Prevention

Complications of varicose veins

 

In rare events, varicose veins can cause complications, which may include:

 

  • Venous leg ulcers. These occur when the vein develops into an open wound. If the site of the varicose veins begins to swell or bleed, contact your doctor immediately.
  • Blood clots. If your varicose veins become enlarged or swollen and are painful, this could be a sign of blood clotting, something that requires immediate medical treatment. Blood clots can lead to a more serious condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can be deadly.  People with varicose veins have a five-fold increased risk of developing DVT.

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