Varicose veins, which affect an estimated 40 percent of women and 25 percent of men, are enlarged and twisted rope-like veins that appear near the surface of the skin. While they can develop anywhere in the body, they are most commonly found in the legs and ankles because standing and walking increase pressure in the lower extremities. In normally functioning veins, tiny one-way valves open as blood flows toward the heart and close to prevent blood from flowing backward. When these valves malfunction, blood pools in the veins, resulting in a buildup of pressure that weakens their walls and causes them to bulge. Over time, the increased pressure can cause additional valves to fail. This venous reflux, or venous insufficiency, leads to the development of varicose veins and spider veins.
Spider veins (telangiectasias) are similar to varicose veins, but smaller and found closer to the skin's surface. They take their name from their appearance, which resembles a spider’s web. Usually red or blue in color, they vary in size and can be found in other areas of the body besides the legs, including the face.
Both of these progressive conditions create cosmetic concerns, but they can develop into medical issues as well.
Vein disease is the primary cause of varicose veins. Unavoidable underlying causes of chronic venous insufficiency that can lead to varicose veins and spider veins include an inherited genetic predisposition and the normal aging process. Any condition that puts more pressure on leg veins - including standing for long periods of time, being overweight, or pregnancy - can also cause varicose veins or spider veins. Women are at greater risk than men due to hormonal changes that relax vein walls during pregnancy, pre-menstruation or menopause. Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy may also increase the risk, as do a history of blood clots and conditions that increase pressure in the abdomen, such as tumors, constipation and tight garments like girdles. Other factors include previous venous surgery and exposure to ultraviolet rays.
Varicose veins and spider veins appear most commonly between the ages of 30 and 70. In addition to the visual appearance, many patients may experience one or more of the following leg symptoms:.
Venous Reflux Disease, also known as venous insufficiency, affects the circulation of your blood. The main role of your veins is to return blood to the heart, but if the valves fail, they will give way to the forces of gravity and not return blood to the heart. This backward flow is called reflux. This blood can become acidic from metabolic waste, causing an intense inflammatory reaction resulting in symptoms such as pain and swelling. Venous reflux disease can lead to varicose veins and spider veins to thick bulging veins. Typically, varicose veins are an indicator to venous reflux, which can cause serious circulatory problems if not treated properly.
Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS, causes a person to always feel the urge to move his or her legs. RLS can make it uncomfortable to do normal activities, such as sleeping through the night or traveling long distances in the car or on a plane. While there are other causes of RLS, it is common complaint by people who have vein disease. Legs often tend to feel achy, cramped, and tired because of broken vein valves.
Leg ulcers are open sores caused by malfunctioning leg valves, and can take place in the leg or ankle. When leg valves do not function as they should, pressure in the veins increases and causes open red sores. Venous leg ulcers result from the failure of these sores to heal and can be extremely painful. Leg Ulcers can be effectively treated with a combination of wound care coupled with treatment of the underlying venous problem with endovenous laser ablation.
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