What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are superficial veins (veins underneath the skin in our legs) that have become enlarged and swollen because the valves in them are damaged. The term is used to describe big, bulging, rope-like veins visible under the skin on the inside of the calf and thigh.
The valves in healthy leg veins ensure that blood from our legs makes it back to the heart, so that it can be oxygenated and recirculated. These valves allow the blood in our veins to flow in one direction, moving blood toward the heart, against gravity. If we didn't have these valves, blood in our legs would never make it back to our hearts for recirculation.
Varicose veins are painful dilated veins where the blood has pooled, since the one-way valves can no longer channel the blood up the leg towards the heart. This pooling stretches the veins, creating swollen and twisted veins that appear under the skin as rope-like vessels.
What causes varicose veins?
Varicose vein disease may occur for no identified reason. However, there are several factors that may increase your risk of developing varicose veins, such as:
- Excessive body weight
- Prolonged standing or sitting
- Hormonal changes
- Advancing age
What are the risks of varicose veins?
Varicose veins may not cause any problems, or they may cause aching pain, throbbing and discomfort. In some cases, varicose veins can lead to more serious health problems. These include:
- Sores or skin ulcers due to chronic (long-term) backing up of blood
- Bleeding - the skin over the veins becomes thin and easily injured
- Superficial Thrombophlebitis - a blood clot that forms in a vein just below the skin
- Deep Vein Thrombosis - a blood clot in a deeper vein