Varicose veins are swollen, twisted, and sometimes painful veins that have filled with an abnormal collection of blood.
In normal veins, valves in the vein keep blood moving forward toward the heart. With varicose veins, the valves do not function properly, causing blood to remain in the vein. The pooling of blood in a vein causes it to enlarge.
This process usually occurs in the veins of the legs, although it may occur elsewhere. Varicose veins are common and mostly affect women.
Standing for a long time and having increased pressure in the abdomen may make you more likely to develop varicose veins or make the condition worse.
Primary varicose veins occur because of congenitally defective valves, or without a known cause. Secondary varicose veins occur because of another condition, such as when a pregnant woman develops varicose veins.
Symptoms of varicose veins may include:
- Fullness, heaviness, aching, and sometimes pain in the legs
- Visible, enlarged veins
- Mild swelling of ankles
- Brown discoloration of the skin at the ankles
- Skin ulcers near the ankle (this is more often seen in severe cases)
Treatment is usually conservative. You will be asked to avoid excessive standing, raise your legs when resting or sleeping, and wear elastic support hose.
You may need treatment to improve the appearance of your legs. Surgery may be recommended:
- Vein stripping and removal of the varicose vein (ligation)
- Sclerotherapy of veins
Vein stripping is usually reserved for patients who are experiencing excessive pain or who have skin ulcers.