Varicose veins are gnarled, enlarged veins. Any vein may become varicose, but the veins in your legs and feet are most commonly affected. For many, varicose and spider veins are simply a cosmetic concern; for others, varicose veins can cause aching pain and discomfort.
Varicose veins may not always cause pain. Signs you may have varicose veins include:
- Veins that are dark purple or blue in color
- Veins that appear twisted and bulging; often like cords on your legs.
- Varicose veins may also form and cause pain in other places from above the groin to below the ankle.
When painful signs and symptoms occur, they may include:
- An achy or heavy feeling in your legs.
- Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in your lower legs.
- Worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long time.
- Itching around one or more of your veins
- Skin conditions and even ulcers may occur. This may mean you have a severe form of vascular disease that required medical attention.
Causes | Risk factors
Arteries carry blood from your heart to the rest of your tissues; veins return blood from the rest of your body to your heart, so the blood can be recirculated. To return blood to your heart, the veins in your legs must work against gravity. Muscle contractions in your lower legs act as pumps, and elastic vein walls help blood return to your heart. Tiny valves in your veins open as blood flows toward your heart then close to stop blood from flowing backward.
As you get older, your veins can lose elasticity causing them to stretch. The valves in your veins may become weak, allowing blood that should be moving toward your heart to flow backward. Blood pools in your veins, and your veins enlarge and become varicose. The veins appear blue because they contain deoxygenated blood, which is in the process of being recirculated through the lungs.
Women are more likely to develop the condition. Hormonal changes that occur during premenstruation, pregnancy, or menopause may be a factor. Female hormones tend to relax the vein walls. Taking hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills may increase your risk of varicose veins.
Your blood doesn't flow as well if you're in the same position for long periods.
Pregnancy increases the volume of blood in your body, but decreases the flow of blood from your legs to your pelvis. This circulatory change is designed to support your growing fetus, but it can produce an unfortunate side effect, enlarged veins in your leg. Varicose veins can surface for the first time or may worse during late pregnancy, when your uterus exerts greater pressure on the veins in your legs. Varicose veins that develop during pregnancy generally improve without medical treatment within three months of delivery.
If other family members had varicose veins, there's a greater chance you will too.