So… What are varicose veins?

Sure you know what they look like, those unsightly twisting swollen cords that are sometimes purple. You may know what they feel like, achy, swollen and extremely sensitive. You definitely know you don’t want them, but have you ever wondered what happens in the body to cause them?

Veins contain a series of one way valves formed at various distances to keep blood returning to the heart in an effective manner. For a vein to become varicose means the valve leaflets that prevent the blood from flowing backward aren’t working properly. The blood then flows backward and enlarges the vein by actually increasing the pressure within the vein itself. This causes swelling that forms the visibly bulging veins.

As we walk the leg muscles pump the veins to return blood to the heart, against the effects of gravity. When veins become varicose, the leaflets of the valves no longer meet properly, and the valves can’t keep the flow toward the heart in check. This allows blood to flow backwards and the veins enlarge even more. Varicose veins are most common in the superficial veins of the legs, which are subjected to higher pressure when standing.

Sure, varicose veins can be unsightly, but they can also be painful and dangerous. The dilated veins cause stretching of the tiny sensory nerve endings, resulting in symptoms like burning, itching, heaviness, fatigue, “restless leg”, and nighttime leg cramps. Sometimes they look like cords twisting and bulging at the surface of the skin because they are raised and swollen. The most common place to have varicose veins is the on the inside of the leg and thigh.
There are many factors that contribute to a person developing varicose veins. First and foremost is the presence of a history of them in family members. They are enhanced by age, hormonal changes, pregnancy, obesity, sun exposure, trauma, and jobs that require prolonged standing (toll booth operator, checker, blackjack dealer).

Over time, varicose veins can get worse. The veins will get more prominent and swollen because blood starts to pool. This can occasionally lead to blood clots in the dilated segments. Unfortunately, once the veins become prominent or develop complications, it is very unlikely that the condition will resolve without treatment. Dr. Merchant and Dr. Daake can diagnose varicose veins in a simple physical examination and develop a treatment plan to give you exceptional results.


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