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What are Varicose Veins?


Veins are the vessels through which blood returns to the heart from the organs and extremities. Veins contain one way valves that prevent back flow (reflux) of the blood away from the heart. Sometimes, particularly when there has been obstruction of the veins, or when prolonged pressure is placed on the veins, these valves stretch and no longer close properly. Because we spend most of the day upright, this is particularly noticeable in the lower limbs where it allows blood to travel back down the veins towards the feet and pool in the veins of the calf and thigh.

When this occurs, the veins in the legs that are near to the surface of the skin dilate an become tortuous. These are Varicose Veins.
Varicose Veins can range from minor dilatations to large bunch of grape-like structures in the calf.
"Thread veins" or ‘dermal flares’ are often found in association with more extensive Varicose Veins. These are very small purple or blue veins in the skin of the legs. Some people are only affected by dermal flares.
Varicose veins is a slowly progressive disease which if left untreated can lead to marked skin change damage or ulceration near the ankle.
Why do varicose veins arise?
Heredity, or at least familial tendency is an important aspect in the development of Varicose Veins.
Varicose Veins affect up to 20% of the adult population. Many sufferers know of other family members with the same problem. One study has shown that there is an 80% chance of developing varices where both parents had Varicose Veins.
Equally important are environmental factors, for example, prolonged standing - especially for workers such as sales assistants, flight attendants, waitresses and nurses, for example. It is also possible that diet may be a factor, and our Western diet with high content of fat and refined sugar with low fibre content may contribute to the development of Varicose Veins.
Varicose Veins increase in frequency with advancing age, but may appear at any time of life and small varices are even seen in school children.
Pregnancy also has a demonstrable impact on the onset and severity of Varicose Veins, although there may only be transitory symptoms: Studies show that as many as 70% of pregnant women develop Varicose Veins during pregnancy with causes associated to an increase in hormone levels and blood volume which in turn causes veins to enlarge and, later in pregnancy, the enlarge uterus causing increased pressure on the pelvic veins. Studies also show that two thirds of such Varicose Veins will disappear with out treatment within a few months of delivery.
What are the symptoms?
In some people, varicose veins cause no symptoms, other than the appearance of the bulging, twisted vein beneath the skin. However, in other people, symptoms include:
  • An ache in the affected area
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles due to the fluid from stagnant blood leaking through the walls of the veins into surrounding tissues
  • A feeling of fatigue, heaviness, tiredness, burning, or throbbing of the legs, especially at the end of the day or after periods of prolonged standing
  • Persistent itching of the skin over the affected area
  • Changes in skin color-the skin over the affected area may turn a brownish gray color, especially around the ankles
Varicose Veins are often progressive, which means that symptoms may worsen over time.
What complications can varicose veins cause?
Bleeding - The thin-walled varicose veins protrude just under the skin. Bumping or scratching a large varicose vein may cause severe bleeding. Varicose veins bleed more than healthy veins because of abnormally high pressure within the damaged veins
Phlebitis - Phlebitis means inflammation of a vein. A form of phlebitis that sometimes affects varicose veins is 'Superficial Thrombophlebitis', an inflammation of a vein just below the surface of the skin, which results from a small blood clot.
Leg Ulcers - (open sores) are one of the most troublesome complications of varicose veins. They tend to occur most often in the elderly.
What can I do to prevent them?
As indicated above, many of the predisposing factors to Varicose Veins are difficult to avoid; such as a family history and occupational concerns.
Where possible, extensive period of standing still should be avoided. Walking helps pump the blood to the heart from the legs. In occupations where extended periods of standing is unavoidable, regularly taking a few steps will help the circulation.
Wearing support stockings may also reduce the likelihood of varicose veins and the severity of their symptoms. These are fairly inexpensive, especially when compared against the cost of limited mobility, pain and suffering associated with Varicose Veins
No creams or drugs are available to prevent varicose veins. The earlier varicose veins and dermal flares are treated the better the long term and cosmetic outcome.
There is no need for patients to suffer from Varicose Veins.  You shouldn't have to hide your legs!
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