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What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that have become distended or swollen and the valves which move blood to the heart cannot close properly and start to leak. Blood that should be pushed back to the heart leaks downward, pooling in the lower extremities of the body and causing the veins to bulge. People who sit or stand in one position for long amounts of time, sit with their legs crossed, or who do not exercise are prone to varicose veins.

Many factors increase a person's chances of developing varicose veins:

Excess weight, heavy lifting, and pregnancy also increase the likelihood of developing varicose veins as they all put increased pressure on the body.

Varicose Vein Symptoms

Varicose veins are dark blue, swollen, and twisted veins visible through the skin. People with varicose veins describe having legs that feel heavy, tired, achy, and painful. Symptoms may worsen after standing or sitting for long periods of time. If you have varicose veins, you may also notice skin color changes, dry, thin skin, irrated skin, open sores, or bleeding.

Sometimes a blood clot or injury develops near the surface of the skin near a vein. This is called thrombophlebitis.

Although varicose veins are not considered serious, in some cases, varicose veins can signal a blockage in the deeper veins. This condition, called deep vein thrombosis, requires evaluation and possible treatment.

Q: What causes varicose veins?

A: The heart pumps blood filled with oxygen and nutrients to the whole body. Arteries carry blood from the heart towards the body parts. Veins carry oxygen-poor blood from the body back to the heart. The squeezing of leg muscles pumps blood back to the heart from the lower body. Veins have valves that act as one-way flaps. These valves prevent the blood from flowing backwards as it moves up the legs. If the oneway valves become weak, blood can leak back into the vein and collect there. This problem is called venous insufficiency. Pooled blood enlarges the vein and it becomes varicose.

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