What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are most often swollen, gnarled veins that most frequently occur in the legs, ankles and feet. They are produced by a condition known as venous insufficiency or venous reflux, in which blood circulating through the lower limbs does not properly return to the heart but instead pools up in the distended veins.
More than 25 million Americans suffer from venous reflux disease. The symptoms can include pain and fatigue in the legs, swollen ankles and calves, burning or itching skin, skin discoloration and leg ulcers. In less severe cases, thin, discolored vessels – “spider veins” – may be the only symptom.
Gender and age are two primary risk factors in the development of venous reflux. An estimated 72% of American women and 42% of men will experience varicose veins symptoms by the time they reach their sixties. Women who have been pregnant more than once and people who are obese, have a family history of varicose veins or spend a great deal of time standing have an elevated risk for the condition, but it can occur in almost anyone at almost any age. Varicose veins never go away without treatment and frequently progress and worsen over time.
What are the Symptoms of Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are swollen vessels, blue or purple in color and generally bulging above the surface of the skin. They may appear twisted or "ropey" and can be accompanied by swelling in adjacent tissue. They can be found anywhere on the leg, from the ankle up to the groin, but most commonly appear on the inside of the thigh or on the back of the calf or knee.
Varicose veins are not always a serious or uncomfortable condition – for some people, small discolored vessels or minor swelling may be the only signs – but for millions of sufferers they can cause symptoms severe enough to significantly impact the quality of life. Throbbing pain, a deep ache or heavy feeling in the legs, muscle cramps, fatigue, “restless” legs, burning or itching skin, and severe swelling of the ankles can all be symptoms of venous reflux disease, the major underlying cause of varicose veins.
When symptoms like these are present, they frequently curtail the patient’s activities and can even force them to miss work. Sufferers complain of being unable to walk, stand or sit for very long without feeling pain or exhaustion.
In severe cases, varicose veins can be indicators of serious circulatory problems, producing blood clots or skin ulcers that require immediate medical attention.