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Varicose Veins Result from Expanded Vein Walls and Damaged Valves

Although the exact cause of varicose veins is unknown, we do know that the walls of the veins can expand and valves can be damaged. This damage can happen when the blood is prevented from moving out of the legs as it should. Since the weight of the blood is so heavy, the valves are able to hold back the downward flow of blood for only a limited time. Then the vein wall gradually starts to expand. The valves no longer have a nice, tight fit, and blood starts to move down the leg. As more valves become damaged, more blood is allowed to pool in the vein, and it starts to become visible to the human eye. This is what we call a "varicose vein." When you have this type of vein you may also have symptoms of tiredness and "heaviness."

Heredity is the number one contributing factor causing varicose and spider veins. Women are more likely to suffer from abnormal leg veins. Up to 50% of American women may be affected. Hormonal factors including puberty, pregnancy, menopause, the use of birth control pills, estrogen, and progesterone affect the disease. It is very common for pregnant women to develop varicose veins during the first trimester. Pregnancy causes increases in hormone levels and blood volume which in turn cause veins to enlarge. In addition, the enlarged uterus causes increased pressure on the veins. Varicose veins due to pregnancy often improve within 3 months after delivery. However, with successive pregnancies, abnormal veins are more likely to remain. Other predisposing factors include aging, standing occupations, obesity and leg injury.

If you suffer from problems related to varicose and spider veins, you are not alone. It is estimated that more than 80 million Americans suffer from some form of venous disorder. While some people seek treatment for cosmetic improvement, many seek relief from pain. Help is available.

What Are Varicose Veins?

Arteries bring blood from the heart to the extremities, veins, which have one-way valves, channel blood back to the heart. If the valves don't function well, blood doesn't flow efficiently. The veins become enlarged because they are congested with blood. These enlarged veins are commonly called spider veins or varicose veins. Spider veins are small red, blue or purple veins on the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are larger distended veins that are located somewhat deeper than spider veins.

Pain in the legs is frequently related to abnormal leg veins. Symptoms, often made worse by prolonged standing, include feelings of fatigue, heaviness, aching, burning, throbbing, itching, cramping, and restlessness of the legs. Leg swelling can occur. Severe varicose veins can compromise the nutrition of the skin and lead to eczema, inflammation or even ulceration of the lower leg.

Vein disorders are not always visible; diagnostic techniques are important tools in determining the cause and severity of the problem. In addition to a physical examination, non-invasive ultrasound is often used.