Varicose veins are large, swollen veins that look twisted under the skin. While they can occur anywhere in the body, they usually affect your legs. This is due to pressure on the veins in your legs when you walk or stand.
For some people, varicose veins — and a mild variation called spider veins — are a cosmetic concern. For others, they cause leg cramps. Sometimes, varicose veins signal circulatory problems that lead to painful blood clots.
Your veins may be varicose if you can see dark blue or purple veins through the skin. They may bulge like knotted cords on your legs. You may also have small spider veins on your legs or face.
When pain is a symptom, it usually occurs as an ache in your legs. The veins may itch or you may feel throbbing or burning sensations. The pain is worse after you stand or sit for a long time.
Self-care, such as exercise and compression stockings, can ease the pain of varicose veins. Clinics like The Sheen Vein Institute offers non-surgical cosmetic treatments to fade unsightly veins. If you develop skin ulcers, you may have a vascular disease that requires surgery.
Age and pregnancy are common causes of varicose veins. Your veins lose some elasticity as you age, which stretches the veins and weakens the valves. This can cause blood to pool in your veins and become varicose.
Pregnancy decreases the flow of blood from the legs to the pelvis. The condition may worsen during late pregnancy, when the uterus increases pressure on the veins in the legs. It usually improves without treatment a few months after delivery.
Five factors increase your risk of developing varicose veins: age, sex, obesity, inactivity and family history. Age is a risk factor due to the normal wear and tear of the valves in your veins. Women are more likely than men to develop varicose veins due to hormone changes that occur during pregnancy, menstruation and menopause.
If you are obese or overweight, the excess pounds can put additional stress on your veins. If you stand or sit for long periods, the blood in your veins cannot flow as well. Finally, if other family members have varicose veins, you may develop them too.
There is no way to prevent varicose veins completely, but you can reduce the risk by improving your circulation and muscle tone. The same measures used to treat varicose veins — exercise, compression stockings, weight loss and low salt diets — can cut your risk of developing new ones. For unsightly or severe cases, there are cosmetic and surgical treatments.