Varicose Veins: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Varicose veins are a condition that affects around 25% of all adults, and it is more common in women. According to statistics, roughly one in four American adults are affected by varicose veins. Also known as varicosities or varicose, varicose veins appear in the form of twisted, swollen veins on the legs and feet.

Most of the time, varicose veins present a cosmetic problem and there are no health reasons to seek treatment. Other times, however, the condition will be followed by symptoms such as swelling, pain, discomfort, and heaviness, and in severe cases, bleeding, blood clots, and the formation of ulcers. In those cases, treatment will be required.

What causes varicose veins?

When the veins are healthy and functioning properly, the blood travels in one direction. This is because of the one-way valves that prevent the blood from leaking backward and backflowing.

When the valves in the veins are not functioning properly (when they’re damaged), this is when the blood starts to pool below the weakened valve instead of flowing toward the heart. The vein becomes swollen and enlarged from the blood that accumulates in it and starts to twist and bulge. Veins in the legs are the ones that are furthest from the heart which is why they’re most often affected.

What are the risk factors for varicose veins?

There are a plethora of factors that can potentially cause an individual to develop such a condition. Sometimes, it will be a result of occupational standing or sitting, both of which make it challenging for the blood to flow effectively. Other times, it will be the added pressure of the extra weight being carried around that will increase an individual’s risk of developing the condition.

Other than lifestyle factors, the risk of varicose veins also increases as a person gets older since the valves suffer significant wear and tear and are not able to regulate blood flow as efficiently. Menopause and pregnancy may also pose potential risk factors for developing varicose veins. The same goes for genetics – if varicose veins run in an individual’s family, this increases the likelihood of varicosity of them developing the condition as well.

What are the symptoms of varicose veins?

When it comes to the majority of cases where individuals develop varicose veins, the condition won’t present a health issue but a cosmetic one. The veins, usually on the legs, will be misshapen and highly visible, appearing in blue or dark purple color, and they will be twisted and lumpy.

Sometimes, the skin around the ankles will become discolored and the ankles may become swollen. The area around the damaged veins may become itchy and flaky. Legs may start to feel heavy and achy and leg cramps may start to occur. The pain in the legs may worsen after an individual has been sitting or standing for a prolonged period of time.

What are the treatment options for varicose veins?

When it comes to treating varicose veins, there are a couple of different measures you can take to alleviate pain and prevent the condition from worsening. Sometimes, the treatment may involve getting over-the-counter products such as creams that will help soothe painful varicose veins and improve their appearance. Compression stockings can also be very useful for treating varicose veins since they help improve circulation.

In cases where the symptoms become a health problem (or present a cosmetic issue), individuals can turn to various surgical (vein ligation and stripping) and non-surgical procedures (sclerotherapy, micro sclerotherapy, and endovenous thermal ablation) to treat varicose veins. That said, prevention is the best cure, and making lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding standing for a long time, and exercising regularly is essential for preventing varicose veins.

How are varicose veins diagnosed?

Because they are usually visible, the appearance of varicose veins makes it possible for doctors to identify the condition and make a diagnosis. Through a visual, physical examination, the doctor will be able to determine whether the patient has varicose veins.

During the examination, the doctor may ask the patient about the symptoms as well as perform a Doppler test, a duplex ultrasound, or air plethysmography (APG) test. Such diagnostic tests can help the doctor measure blood flow and check for blood clots and any abnormalities. In some cases, the patients will need to visit a vascular specialist for further treatment.

Wrapping up

Although quite common, varicose veins are usually a cosmetic concern that can be treated with natural remedies or non-surgical procedures. That said, the condition may sometimes affect a person’s health, cause discomfort and pain, and may even lead to some serious problems. However, with the help of effective treatments and products as well as certain lifestyle changes, individuals can manage the condition successfully.

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