In healthy leg veins, valves carry blood from the extremities back to the heart. Sometimes these valves weaken or fail, causing a condition called venous reflux disease or chronic venous insufficiency. When this happens, the blood ceases to move steadily upwards and can pool or even reverse course, resulting in the bulging and knotting of varicose veins. These veins are twisted, enlarged, and often dark blue in color. If left untreated, varicose veins get progressively worse and can ultimately lead to venous leg ulcers.
Bulging Veins and Enlarged Veins – Bulging veins that are swollen and raised above the skin surface, generally called varicose veins, can occur anywhere on the leg, but are most often found on the inner thigh and/or the inner lower leg or calf. These may often be described as bulgy or ropey in appearance. Red or Blue Veins – Small red or blue veins found closer to the skin surface are generally called spider veins. Red or blue veins may vary in size, but are often web-like with branches like a tree. Burning or Throbbing Veins – Sensations of muscles cramping and veins that may be warm to the touch. Bleeding – Bleeding may be due to a ruptured surface vein or more rarely be associated with a venous ulcer, one of the most severe forms of vein disease. This most often occurs on the lower leg or ankle. You should elevate your leg, apply pressure over the bleeding site, and seek medical help immediately. Swelling – Swelling or edema may occur in the lower part of the leg, usually around the ankle or in the feet. This is often more pronounced after longer periods of standing, sitting and is especially prominent at the end of one’s day. Swelling often indicates vein problems occurring below the surface of the skin. Skin Discoloration – Changes in skin color and darkening in areas around the affected veins, often brown, red and shiny. Certain conditions may cause whitening or hardening of the skin. Leg Pain – Severe tenderness of your veins, especially when sensitive to touch. Tired, Heavy, Aching Feeling – Often a dull achiness that feels worse at night. Itching – An irritated rash or strong itching sensation on or near your veins. This may lead to severely dry skin and can be a form of eczema. Numbness – Lack of sensation or a tingling feeling.
Family History – If you are aware that someone in your family suffers from varicose veins, there is always an increased risk that you may develop varicose veins. Age –We all have elasticity in our vein walls that tend to naturally decrease over time. Hence, the older we get, the more prone we are to developing varicose veins. Gender –Although 25% of men are at risk for varicose vein development, research has shown that women are at a much higher risk at about 40%. Many factors such as increased female hormones and pregnancy cause this increased risk in women. Pregnancy – Many women see varicose veins developing for the first time during pregnancy. We see a more prominent development after the second pregnancy. Research show this occurs because of hormonal changes and increased pressure on all veins as the uterus expands. Lifestyle – People who tend to sit or stand for longer periods of time are at an increased risk for varicose veins. This happens because blood tends to stay stagnant in certain areas of the leg without muscle compression against the vein. Exercise and muscle compression will assist the blood upward through the vein. Obesity – Excessive weight causes increased pressure on the vein, restricting healthy blood flow. Injury – Certain injuries or trauma may cause the failure of vein valves.
Spider veins are like varicose veins but smaller. They also are closer to the surface of the skin than varicose veins. Often, they are red or blue. They can look like tree branches or spider webs with their short, jagged lines. They can be found on the legs and can cover either a very small or very large area of skin. Spider veins can be caused by the backup of blood. They can also be caused by hormone changes, exposure to the sun, and injuries.
These commonly occur on the lower leg or ankle and involve open wounds that may not heal without treatment. They can be very painful and have a significant impact on quality of life. Venous leg ulcers represent a very serious form of vein disease requiring immediate attention and treatment.