Disease at a Glance: Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are gnarled, twisted, swollen and enlarged veins just under the surface of the skin. This condition usually occurs in the legs, but tit can also occur other parts of the body. Usually varicose veins are not serious – they are generally a cosmetic concern – but sometimes they can cause complications. A Colour Doppler Test can confirm varicose veins.
Varicose veins occur mostly in the legs because standing and walking puts extra pressure on the veins in the lower body. But what causes varicose veins? In the long, peripheral veins of the leg, blood has to flow upwards against gravity, which it does thanks to the regular, intermittent pumping mechanism of the calf muscles. This pumping mechanism is, in turn, aided by a series of ‘one way valves’ that prevent the blood from flowing downwards.
If, because of some reason, these valves become weak and cannot hold the blood from flowing back, it pools in the leg, building up pressure inside the veins. This causes the veins to become gnarled, large, twisted and tortuous.
|For some, the disease is asymptomatic|
|Others complain of heaviness, burning sensation, pain & triredness in the legs|
|In severe cases, there may be swelling, changes in skin color, scaling & inflammation|
|Open sores are likely in the more advanced cases|
The musculature of the walls of the veins can become weak with age, leading to a weak pumping mechanism and inefficient ‘one-way valves’. Venous pressure may also go up in overweight persons and in case of pregnancies. People whose occupation demands them to stand for a long period of time are prone to developing varicose veins. Varicose veins are also known to run in families. Women tend to be more affected than men.
Some patients do not report any problem with varicose veins, while others complain of symptoms like heaviness, burning sensation, aching, tiredness or pain in the legs. In more severe cases, there may be swelling in the legs, feet and ankles after sitting or standing for a long time, itching over the vein, changes in the colour of the skin, inflammation and scaling.
In advanced cases, there may be open sores. If the varicose leads to a blockage in the deep veins, it may cause a serious complication called deep vein thrombosis.
Patients are advised to avoid long periods of standing or sitting in one position. They may also be told to raise or keep their legs elevated and wear compression stockings. Exercising regularly is also advised as it helps improve circulation and helps maintain a healthy weight. In severe symptomatic cases, treatment may include measures like closure of the vein, destruction of the vein, or surgery for removal of the vein.
1. NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk)
2. Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org)
3. National Heart Lung & Blood Institute (www.nhlbi.nih.gov)
4. University of Maryland Medical Centre (www.umm.edu)