As many as 40 million Americans have varicose veins, according to the Society for Vascular Surgery. And if left untreated, varicose veins can become worse.
Jason Andre, MD, vascular surgeon at Bon Secours Vein and Vascular Specialists, answers questions about varicose veins and explains when you should seek medical treatment.
Q: What are varicose veins?
A: Varicose veins are gnarled, enlarged veins. Any vein may become varicose, but the veins most commonly affected are those in your legs and feet. This is because standing and walking upright increases the pressure in the veins of your lower body.
Q: What are the most likely causes of varicose veins?
A: Aging is a main cause. As you get older, your veins can lose elasticity, causing them to stretch. The valves in your veins may become weak, allowing blood that should be moving toward your heart to flow backward. Blood pools in your veins, your veins enlarge, and from there become varicose.
Some pregnant women develop varicose veins too. Pregnancy increases the volume of blood in your body but decreases the flow of blood from your legs to your pelvis. This circulatory change is designed to support the growing fetus but can produce an unfortunate side effect: enlarged veins in your legs.
Q: What are the symptoms of varicose veins?
A: Varicose veins may not cause any pain. Signs you may have varicose veins include veins that are dark purple or blue in color, and veins that appear twisted and bulging. When painful signs and symptoms occur, they may include:
- Achy or heavy feeling in your legs
- Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in your lower legs
- Worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long time
- Itching around one or more of your veins
- Bleeding from the varicose veins
- A painful cord in the vein with red discoloration of the skin
Q: When should you see a doctor?
A: You should see a doctor when self-care including exercise, elevating your legs, or wearing compression stockings does not help with easing the pain. Also, if you're concerned about how your veins look and feel, and self-care measures haven't stopped your condition from getting worse, then it’s time to see a doctor.