Varicose Veins Defined

Yesterday was a day like any other day. I had already had my morning cup of peppermint tea and the television was tuned into the morning show. As I was applying lotion to my left right leg, I noticed something that I had never felt before. I started to panic as I looked down at my leg and saw the damage. Why were my veins enlarged? More importantly, why had I not noticed this before? Oh, no! I have varicose veins! As the shock began to wear off, I decided to educate myself about the disorder.

Every year more and more people discover that they have varicose veins. Varicose veins are twisted, enlarged veins that can occur on any part of the body although usually affecting the legs and feet due to the pressure of walking. Varicose veins are a common disorder affecting as many as 60 percent of all Americans. Older women are more prone to the disease than any other group.

Varicose veins are characterized by many symptoms which include throbbing or swelling pain in your veins, itching around your veins, or raised and twisted veins. Varicose veins are usually dark purple or blue in color. The severity of varicose veins varies widely from person to person. It is extremely important to alert your health care provider to any sudden swelling of your legs. This can indicate a life threatening condition called thrombophlebitis, a blood clot.

Varicose veins occur when the valves in your veins malfunction. The malfunction can be due to many factors including loss of vein elasticity or increased fluid volume. Loss of vein elasticity is often seen in older women. The less elastic veins cause the blood carried within them to flow back wards. The blood then becomes pooled in the vein and becomes varicose. Varicose veins often appear or become worsened due to pregnancy. Pregnancy weight gain and increased blood volume exert great amounts of pressure on the veins.

There are several risk factors associated with varicose veins. These include:

Sex. Women are more likely to develop varicose veins than men. Female hormones tend to relax venous walls. Taking certain birth control pills may also increase the risk for varicose veins.

Age. Veins lose elasticity over the years which leads to vein malfunction.

Obesity. Being overweight causes more pressure to be exerted on the veins.

Genetics. A person is more likely to develop varicose veins if other family members have them.

Standing for long periods of time. Blood does not flow as well when you stay in the same position for long periods. This causes vein malfunction which leads to varicose veins.

A professional diagnosis of varicose veins is made by a visual inspection of the affected veins. Your health care provider will examine the affected area while you are standing and determine if swelling is present. A medical history will be taken as to the onset, aggravating factors, and symptoms of the condition. An ultrasound may also be taken to determine if a blood clot is present. If necessary, you will be referred to a vein specialist or dermatologist.

There is no fool proof way to prevent varicose veins. However, there are measures that be taken to reduce the likely hood of varicose veins. These steps include exercise, weight control, avoiding high heels and tight clothing, elevating your legs and changing positions often. While it may be tempting to cross your legs, you might want to break this habit. Crossing your legs can greatly aggravate circulatory problems. The goal of varicose vein prevention is to promote venous return and reduce undue stress on the lower extremities.

Some people may not be able to prevent varicose veins. There are many treatments available to address varicose veins ranging from wearing compression stockings to promote venous return, to having laser surgery or vein stripping procedures. Your health care provider will work closely with you to develop the treatment that is right for you.

Having varicose veins is not the end of the world. There are many things that you can do to prevent and treat this condition. Ask your health care provider what treatments may be right for you. Remember to pay close attention to any change in existing varicose veins and watch for signs of newly formed veins.

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