Varicose veins, also known as varicoses, or varicosities, are abnormal, twisted, enlarged veins. They occur when your veins become enlarged, dilated, and overfilled with blood. They are often painful and typically appear swollen, raised, and have a bluish-purple or red colour. Here are the causes, symptoms, and ways to treat varicose veins.
Certain things increase your likelihood of developing varicose veins including:
Aging causes wear and tear on the valves that control blood flow which can allow some blood to flow back into the veins and collect.
Women are more likely to develop varicose veins because hormonal changes before a menstrual cycle, during pregnancy or menopause, may affect the veins. People on birth control pills also have a higher likelihood of developing the condition.
Varicose veins can be inherited and runs in families.
Excess weight puts pressure on blood vessels.
Certain health conditions such as severe constipation and tumours can increase pressure on the veins causing varicose veins.
Standing or sitting for long periods of time decreases circulation and compromises blood flow. Wearing restrictive clothing such as girdles or pants with tight waistbands can decrease blood flow. People who smoke have a higher likelihood of developing varicose veins.
Symptoms of varicose veins include:
- Visible bulging, enlarged, twisted veins that look like cords on the legs
- Heavy, achy legs
- Itching, burning, throbbing and muscle cramping
- Swelling in the lower legs
- Pain in some instances
- Skin discolouration or colour changes
- In severe cases, bleeding, and the formation of ulcers on the itchy veins
Treatment and prevention
Most of the time, varicose veins do not pose a health risk and invasive treatment is not necessary. They are not dangerous for most people but in severe cases, they can lead to serious health problems like blood clots. Unsightly non-severe varicose veins often only require basic management. Management includes:
- Elevating your legs above your heart three to four times a day for 15 minutes to reduce swelling
- Moving as much as possible if sitting or standing for long periods increases circulation
- Wearing compression stockings daily prevents blood from pooling in the veins
If your case is severely painful or damaging to your overall health, surgery may be recommended. Surgery is done to cut and remove the varicose veins.
Here are some ways to prevent varicose veins from forming or from becoming worse:
- Avoid standing for extended periods of time.
- Lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
- Quit tobacco use.
- Exercise and stay active to improve your circulation.
- Use compression socks or stockings.
- Wear clothes that fit properly.
- Elevate your legs – raising your feet about your waist helps blood flow to your heart.
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