Varicose Veins - What Are They?

Posted on Tuesday, February 26, 2019
by J Keiffert

With age, it is common to notice features on the body that were never there before. One of these features appears on an estimated 15-25% of the adult population in the United States, and is seen, by the majority of that percentage, as problematic. This feature is the dreaded varicose vein, and typically, there are multiple that can be seen on the body.

Generally found on the lower limbs, varicose veins appear as protruding vessels just beneath the surface of the skin. Although three types of veins exist: deep veins, superficial veins, and perforator veins, it is the superficial veins that are most often effected with varicosity, or abnormal swelling. These lumpy superficial veins are referred to as primary varicosities. Although less common, deep veins may swell as well, in which they are referred to as secondary varicosities.

Interestingly, veins contain one-way valves that allow for the passage of blood. As the valves open, blood passes through, and as they close, they prevent the back-flow of blood. With the force of each heart beat, blood pushes forward, and causes the venous valves to swing open, which allows for blood to pass through. Unfortunately, however, this mechanism of blood flow becomes less efficient with age.

As valves fail to fully close, gravity draws blood backwards, causing a build up of blood pressure within the vein. This results in the pooling of blood within the vessel, which in turn stretches and weakens the vein. Unfortunately, the weakening of vessels contributes to even more valve failure, worsening the condition of the veins. As pressure within them increases, vessels begin to appear as lumpy protrusions just beneath the skin’s surface, in which they are referred to as varicose veins. Commonly associated with these bulging vessels are spider veins, which are smaller veins (venules) that form visible threadlike patterns beneath the skin as a result of their stretching.

Although varicose veins more commonly affect older individuals, there are many factors in their development that are unrelated to age. Some of these risk factors include: gender, carrying excess weight, maintaining a sedentary lifestyle, and enduring a pregnancy. With regards to gender, the development of varicose veins occurs more often in women, according to studies, indicating a genetic component to the disease. Factors including: carrying excess weight, and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle increase susceptibility of high blood pressure, meanwhile a fetus during a pregnancy can physically add pressure to the mother’s veins; Each of these factors directly relate to an increase of pressure within the body, which is the leading cause of varicosities.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for varicose veins. However, there are multiple methods of treatment for their symptoms (aching, pain, and itchiness). The easiest way to treat the effects of varicose veins is through exercise, or any form of movement. When the legs are active, they aid in blood circulation, which prevents the pooling of blood within the vessels. Another way to treat the disease is through the removal of the swollen veins in surgery. Usually, this method of treatment is recommended for those who experience chronic pain in the legs. However, varicose vein removal is popular for aesthetic purposes as well. As long as deep veins function properly, the removal of some superficial veins (most commonly effected with varicosity) will not harm the body in any way.