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Varicose Veins
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Varicose veins

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Cardiovascular System

The word varicose comes from the Latin root varix, which means "twisted." Varicose Veins - Usually, varicose veins and telangiectasia (spider veins) are normal veins that have dilated under the influence of increased venous pressure.  Venous insufficiency syndromes allow venous blood to escape from its normal flow path and flow in a retrograde direction down into an already congested leg. Mild forms of venous insufficiency are merely uncomfortable, annoying, or cosmetically disfiguring, but severe venous disease. Any vein may become varicose, but the veins most commonly affected are those in your legs and feet. That's because you stand and walk upright, which increases the pressure in the veins in your lower body.

Varicose veins are a common condition, especially among older women. Women are more likely than men to have this problem.

Signs and symptoms

You may have symptoms even before varicose veins appear. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • An achy or heavy feeling in your legs and burning, throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in your lower legs. Prolonged sitting or standing tends to make your legs feel worse.

  • Enlarged veins readily seen under the skin of your legs.

  • Brownish-gray discoloration on your ankle.

  • Itching around one or more of your veins.

  • Skin ulcers near your ankle, which represent a severe form of vascular disease and require immediate attention.

Varicose veins are dark purple or blue in color and may appear twisted and bulging — like cords. They're found most often on the backs of the calves or on the inside of the leg, anywhere from your groin to your ankle.

Spider veins are smaller, are often red or blue in color, and are closer to the surface of the skin than are varicose veins. They can look like a tree branch or spider web with their short, jagged lines. Spider veins can be found on both the legs and the face. They can cover either a small or a large area of skin.

In addition to spider veins, other types of varicose veins include:

  • Venous lakes. These are pools of blood in the veins.

  • Reticular veins. These flat, blue veins under the skin often appear behind the knee.

  • Telangiectases. These are fine clusters of blood vessels similar to spider veins, reddish in color, which are often found on the face or upper body.

Occasionally, veins deep within the legs become enlarged. In such cases, the affected leg may swell considerably. Any sudden leg swelling that may or may not be accompanied by pain and redness warrants urgent medical attention, as it may indicate a blood clot — a condition known medically as deep vein thrombophlebitis.

Causes

Arteries carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body's tissues. Veins return blood from 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. This is accomplished by muscle contractions in your lower legs, which act as pumps; toned, elastic vein walls that help blood return; and tiny one-way valves in your veins. The valves open as blood flows toward your heart and close to stop blood from flowing backward.

Varicose veins occur when the valves in your veins malfunction. As you get older your veins can lose elasticity, causing them to stretch out. When that happens, blood that should be moving toward your heart may flow backward. Blood pools in your veins, and your veins enlarge and become varicose. The veins appear blue because they contain de-oxygenated blood, which is in the process of being recirculated.

Some pregnant women develop varicose veins. 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 the growing fetus, but it can produce an unfortunate side effect — enlarged veins in your legs. Varicose veins may surface for the first time or may worsen during late pregnancy, when your uterus exerts greater pressure on the veins in your legs. Hemorrhoids are varicose veins located in and around the anus.

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