Varicose veins may be unsightly, in addition to causing pain. There are ways to improve their appearance, though, as well as reduce the discomfort.
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are enlarged blood vessels just below the surface of the skin. They are seen most often in the legs, but they can also be found in other parts of the body. The veins may look lumpy, winding and blue or purple. They form when valves in the veins, which keep blood flowing toward the heart, become weak or leaky. Blood gets trapped and pools in the vein. This stretches the vessel wall and creates a varicose or spider vein.
Varicose veins rarely cause serious medical problems. But sometimes they can:
Cause pain, aching, heaviness, cramps, burning and itching
Lead to more serious conditions, such as open sores (ulcers) or blood clots
Spider veins are small varicose veins that occur closer to the surface of the skin. They may look like spider webs or branches, and they often appear on the legs or face. Although they may be a cosmetic concern, they do not cause medical problems.
What causes varicose veins?
Varicose veins occur when veins weaken and stretch, becoming less elastic. This can come with age, increased pressure from weight gain or increased blood volume during pregnancy.
Other causes of varicose veins are:
Thrombophlebitis or blood clots
A congenital weakness in blood vessels
Self-care tips for treating varicose veins Wear compression stockings. These keep pressure on the veins in your leg, which helps blood return to your heart and keeps your legs from swelling. Wear them all day, and take them off only when you sleep at night.
Get off your feet. If you have to stand for a long time, take breaks and sit down as often as you can.
Stay a healthy weight. Carrying extra weight puts pressure on the veins in your legs. If you are overweight, losing weight can help improve varicose veins.
Be active. Walking, running, and biking strengthen the muscles in your legs, which helps blood move more easily through your veins. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you start an exercise program or increase your activity.
Keep your legs up when you are sitting, sleeping or resting. If you are lying down, put your legs up on some pillows above the level of your heart.
Don’t wear tight clothes. Clothes that are tight in your waist, groin or legs can cause varicose veins or make them worse.
What about more serious treatment?
You may need treatment if your varicose veins keep you from your daily activities, or if they cause:
Skin ulcers (sores) or other skin conditions
Blood clots (thrombophlebitis)
Surgery (ligation and stripping) was once the only way to get rid of varicose veins. Today there are other procedures, including laser treatment and injection therapy (sclerotherapy). These can be done in your doctor’s office. Talk to your doctor to find out if one is right for you.