Where in the World Do They Come From?
Varicose veins are twisted swollen veins that are most often found in the legs. They develop when the one-way valves that allow blood to flow from the veins of the legs back to the heart don’t close completely. This permits some of the blood to pool in the leg veins, causing them to bulge.
If you have varicose veins, you’re not alone. Although women are more likely to get them than men, more than half of people over age 50 have them. After 50, the skin supporting the veins-and the veins themselves-lose their elasticity, contributing to the condition.
Any condition that places additional pressure on the leg veins, including obesity, constipation (due to straining on the toilet), pregnancy, or standing for long periods, can contribute to varicose veins. Doctors aren’t always certain what causes them, but they believe that some people inherit a tendency to the condition. Having a history of deep vein thrombosis (in which a blood clot forms in a large vein in the leg) may also be a cause of severe varicose veins.
Skin Deep or Serious?
For most people, varicose veins are more a cosmetic concern than a serious medical problem. But in other people, weakness in the walls of the blood vessels-in addition to the faulty valves-causes blood to seep into nearby tissue.
If the skin near a varicose vein becomes discolored or you have a sore that won’t heal near one of them, see your doctor promptly. Advanced varicose veins can lead to skin cancers, dangerous vein inflammation, and clotting problems. Rough contact with an affected vein can cause severe bleeding.
How Can You Get Rid of Them?
Many people with varicose veins make lifestyle modifications to ease discomfort. But others choose surgery.
The Low Down on Surgery
There are several ways to surgically treat varicose veins. After these procedures, blood in the treated vein finds a healthier vein to flow through. In sclerotherapy (used for spider veins and small varicose veins), the doctor injects a salt solution into the affected vein, causing it to shrink and eventually be absorbed by your body. Sclerotherapy is an outpatient procedure. For more severely affected veins, a surgeon makes cuts near the affected veins and either ties them off (called ligation) or removes them altogether (called stripping). These surgeries are performed in a hospital.