Varicose Veins

What are veins?

Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from your body's tissues to your heart. The heart pumps blood to your lungs to pick up oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood flows through tiny blood vessels called capillaries, where it gives up its oxygen to the body's tissues. Your blood then returns to your heart through your veins to pick up more oxygen. Veins have one-way valves that help keep blood flowing toward your heart. If your valves are weak or damaged, blood can back up and pool in your veins. This causes the veins to swell and can lead to varicose veins.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are abnormal, dilated blood vessels caused by a weakening in the vessel wall. They might appear as clusters of blue or purple veins and are sometimes surrounded by thin red capillaries known as spider veins (a group of small blood vessels located close to the surface of the skin).

Varicose and spider veins can appear anywhere, but most often appear on the legs and in the pelvic area. Most varicose veins develop near the surface of the skin. Deeper varicose veins can't be seen but might cause the skin above them to swell, or become darker or hard.

What are the symptoms of varicose veins?

Symptoms usually appear before the age of 40 and might include:

What are the risk factors?

What causes varicose veins?

Varicose veins occur when healthy veins swell and cause blood to back up and pool inside the vein. Normally, blood flows through the vein in one direction toward the heart. Varicose veins become a new route for blood to flow.

How are varicose veins diagnosed?

During a physical exam, the doctor will check your legs while you are standing. Your doctor also might request that you have a Doppler Scan, an ultrasound exam to check the blood flow in the veins near the skin's surface (superficial veins) and deep veins.

Should I be concerned?

Varicose and spider veins might not always require medical treatment. If varicose veins make walking or standing painful, you should call your doctor for advice. You also should call your doctor if a sore develops on or near a varicose vein, or if your feet or ankles swell.

In some cases, varicose veins can be harmful to your health because they might be associated with the development of:

How are varicose veins treated?

Regular exercise, standing only when necessary, and elevating your legs while sitting and sleeping might keep varicose and spider veins from getting worse. Wearing special elastic support stockings during daily activities also can provide extra support and relieve aching, sore legs. When you need to stand for long periods of time, take frequent breaks to sit down and elevate your feet.

Depending on their size and location, varicose and spider veins can be treated with surgery, injections (sclerotherapy), or laser surgery.

What is sclerotherapy?

Sclerotherapy is a non-surgical treatment option that involves injecting a chemical solution into the veins to make them collapse. Because the veins can no longer carry blood, they will eventually disappear. Circulation improves because the work of carrying the blood is shifted to nearby healthy blood vessels.

Sclerotherapy requires multiple sessions, since one to three injections are usually required to effectively treat any vein. Ten to 40 veins may be treated in one session. The same area should not be re-injected for four to six weeks to allow for complete healing, although other areas may be treated during this time.

The only discomfort during sclerotherapy is the sensation of small needle pricks. For two to four weeks after treatment, you will wear medical-grade support stockings. Walking and moderate exercise also can help speed recovery. Temporary reactions to the treatment might include slight swelling of the leg or foot, minor bruising, itching, redness, or mild soreness. Rare complications include the development of telangiectasias – small clusters of red blood vessels, skin ulcerations, and brown pigmentation around the treated vessels.

Once treated, the veins disappear over a period of six months and do not recur. However, sclerotherapy treatment cannot stop new varicose or spider veins from developing.

Sclerotherapy doesn’t require anesthesia and can be done during the same visit.

What are some other treatment options for dilated veins?

How can I prevent varicose and spider veins?

References

 

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health/ or www.clevelandclinicflorida.org. This document was last reviewed on:

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