What is Vein Disease?
Varicose veins are enlarged and twisted rope-like veins that appear near the surface of the skin. While they can develop anywhere in the body, they are most commonly found in the legs and ankles because standing and walking increase pressure in the lower extremities. In normally functioning veins, tiny one-way valves open as blood flows toward the heart and close to prevent blood from flowing backward. When these valves malfunction, blood pools in the veins, resulting in a build-up of pressure that weakens their walls and causes them to bulge. Over time, the increased pressure can cause additional valves to fail. This venous reflux, or venous insufficiency, leads to the development of varicose veins and spider veins.
Unavoidable underlying causes of chronic venous insufficiency that can lead to varicose veins include an inherited genetic predisposition and the normal aging process. Any condition that puts more pressure on leg veins – including standing for long periods of time, being overweight, or pregnancy – can also cause varicose veins. Women are at greater risk than men due to hormonal changes that relax vein walls during pregnancy, pre-menstruation or menopause. Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy may also increase the risk, as do a history of blood clots and conditions that increase pressure in the abdomen, such as tumours, constipation and tight garments like girdles. Other factors include previous venous surgery and exposure to ultraviolet rays.
Varicose veins appear most commonly between the ages of 30 and 70. The first physical symptom is usually their appearance. As the disease progresses, the legs begin to feel heavy, tired and achy, and these symptoms worsen with prolonged periods of sitting or standing. Varicose veins can also cause a change in skin color (known as stasis pigmentation), dry and thinning skin, inflammation of the skin, open sores and bleeding.
- Pain (an aching or cramping feeling)
- Burning or tingling sensations
- Tender areas around the veins
If you experience symptoms and delay treatment, your symptoms may progress onward to more serious complications including:
- Inflammation (phlebitis)
- Blood clots (e.g. DVT)
- Ankle sores or skin ulcers