Understanding Varicose Veins

What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins are a common condition of swollen, enlarged veins that runs beneath the surface of your skin, usually appearing on the legs. Visible, twisted veins can sometimes be surrounded by patches of capillaries known as spider veins. This happens when the valves in the veins are not functioning properly, so the blood does not flow effectively from the legs to the heart. Pregnancy, old age, and obesity can increase the risk of getting varicose veins and spider veins. They are often harmless, but when they are inflamed and untreated, they become tender to touch and can cause swollen ankles, itchy skin, and aching in the limb.


Some of the symptoms of varicose veins are throbbing, cramping, swelling, and itching of the legs, ankles or feet. There may be dark purple or blue blood vessels visible on the thigh and calf.


Varicose veins happens when the valves that help circulate oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to push back to the heart stop working properly. This allows the blood to linger in the vein, making it difficult for muscles to push the blood upwards to the heart. Instead of flowing from one valve to the other, the blood continues to pool in the vein, causing the vein to bulge and twist.

Changes in hormone levels may also affect the symptoms, such as during certain times in a woman’s menstrual cycle or during pregnancy or menopause. During pregnancy, women have more blood pumping through the body to support the unborn baby. The extra blood and baby weight can put pressure on the veins, causing veins to get larger. For some women, varicose veins shrink or disappear after childbirth. For others, varicose veins may stay after childbirth and the symptoms may get worse.


Although you may not be able to prevent varicose veins and spider veins from forming, there are steps you can take at home to improve blood circulation:

  • Regular physical exercises in your leg muscles can help prevent new varicose veins from forming because muscles in the legs help your veins push blood back to the heart.
  • Lose weight, if you are overweight or obesity. Extra weight causes stress for veins to move blood back up to the heart against the force of gravity,
  • Do not sit or stand for a long time. If you have to sit or stand for long periods of time, remind yourself to take a break every 30 minutes to stand up and walk around to exercise the leg muscles
  • Wear compression stockings as they can help to increase blood from from your legs to flow back upwards to the heart.  
  • Elevate your feet. Rest your feet on a stool or cushion when you are sitting which helps the blood flow back to the heart.


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