What Causes Varicose Veins?

What are varicose veins and what causes them? Maybe you or someone you know has this problem. Read on to find out more about this disorder.

What are varicose veins and who gets them? Well, you may have them yourself, but why? What causes varicose veins in the first place? Varicose veins are defined as swollen, distended veins, usually occurring in the legs. They are quite unsightly as I am sure you already know, but more than that, they can be painful.

First we must know the normal functioning of the circulatory system. Arteries bring oxygen rich blood from the heart to the entire body. Then veins bring unoxyegenated blood back up to the heart. Under normal conditions, the actions of your leg muscles causing movement help circulate the blood through the veins and back toward the heart. But with varicose veins, the walls of the veins in the legs are weakened. Usually, these veins are superficial, or near the skin's surface where they protrude and are more easily visible. You also have tiny valves inside the veins, just as you have valves inside your heart. With varicose veins, the valves inside the veins are damaged and do not function properly. Gravity can then cause the blood to "pool" in the vein, which means the blood stays in the veins, becoming stagnant there and making them bulge out. Varicose veins can also occur in deeper veins under the skin.

Varicose veins like these can lead to venous thrombosis, which is the medical term for a blood clot. When this occurs, circulation becomes poor. They may lead to swollen ankles, feet and legs, scaly, itchy skin, darkening of the skin, changes in temperature in the legs and feet and may even cause sores and ulcers on the skin to develop. These are called venous stasis ulcers. Blood clots in the legs can be dangerous. Symptoms of venous thrombosis, or blood clots in the legs include, but are not limited to swelling, redness and tenderness along a vein.



The longer a person stands without moving, the more the blood pools in the veins. As more blood pools in the veins, the walls of the veins stretch. Symptoms of varicose veins are the appearance of bluish, soft, and sometimes tender lumps and bulging veins under the surface of the skin. These can be painful at times, but not always. Very tiny veins of the legs can also dilate. These are called spider veins because of the spider web pattern they form. They are actually not related to real varicose veins at all.

It is suspected that varicose veins run in families. Simply looking at the legs for deep veins can make a diagnosis, a Venogram can be taken, which is an x-ray of the blood vessels. Doppler ultrasound may also be used to study the blood flow. This is less invasive than the venogram because for the venogram an i.v. must be started to inject dye and with the ultrasound it is simply like any other ultrasound, no needles are necessary.

Treatment and prevention entail the following common sense, self help approach. Treatment includes raising your legs when sitting. This may help reduce the pain, swelling and may help prevent getting varicose veins at all. When sitting watching TV or reading or even at the computer, try to remember to put you feet up on a chair or footstool, the higher the better. This will help the blood to recirculate back into the body. Another thing that can be done is to get custom fitting support stockings. While they are not very attractive, you could wear them under pants and when at home. Prevention of varicose veins includes the following recommendations:

-take breaks from standing, especially if you have a job where you stand all day, mostly in one place. Raise your feet on a stool, one at a time, switch side and move around when you can. Walking is better than standing still all day.

-wear your support stockings or pantyhose

-avoid wearing tight knee hose or knee socks, and tight girdles which all impair circulation.

-take short walks during the day, walk on your lunch break. Do calf pumping and make circles with your ankles during the day.

-avoid sitting with your legs crossed

-each day lie on the floor or bed near a wall. Put your feet up on the wall. Lie there for at least fifteen minutes each day. This will allow some or most of the blood that has pooled down in your legs to move out of the legs and back into the body. It is also very relaxing and destressing. Take a catnap or read a book while doing this exercise, if you like.

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