Article: Varicose veins

Vein gymnastics in the barefoot park Dornstetten, Germany.
An Indian Railways worker affected by varicose veins in Karnataka, India.

Varicose veins are veins on the leg which are large, twisted, and ropelike, and can cause pain, swelling, or itching. They are an extreme form of telangiectasia, or spider veins.

Varicose veins result due to insufficiency of the valves in the communicating veins. These are veins which link the superficial and deep veins of the lower limb. Normally, blood flows from the superficial to the deep veins, facilitating return of blood to the heart. However, when the valve becomes defective, blood is forced into the superficial veins by the action of the muscle pump (which normally aids return of blood to the heart by compressing the deep veins).

Other symptoms of varicose veins include:

  • Aching, heavy legs (often worse at night)
  • Ankle swelling
  • A brownish-blue shiny skin discoloration around the veins
  • Skin over the vein may become dry, itchy and thin, leading to eczema (venous eczema)
  • The skin may darken (stasis dermatitis), because of the waste products building up in the legs
  • Minor injuries to the area may bleed more than normal and/or take a long time to heal
  • Rarely, there is a large amount of bleeding from a ruptured vein
  • In some people the skin above the ankle may shrink (lipodermatosclerosis) because the fat underneath the skin becomes hard.

Varicose veins are more common in women than in men, and are linked with heredity. Other related factors are pregnancy, obesity, menopause, aging, prolonged standing, leg injury and abdominal straining. Varicose veins are bulging veins that are larger than spider veins, typically 3 mm or more in diameter.

The irritation -- especially the itching -- of varicose veins can be controlled to an extent with either of the following:

  • anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin -- but there is a risk of intestinal bleeding.
  • regular exercise, including vein gymnastics, wading through water and going barefoot.

Varicose Vein Treatment

The treatment of varicose veins varies per patient. It depends upon the results of an ultrasound examination. Some of the treatment options include surgery which uses lasers to close off the blood flow to the abnormal vein.