Veins carry blood back to the heart. Blood is pushed along relatively slowly by muscle activity and prevented from sliding back by cup-shaped valves. As people get older, these valves can stop functioning properly, causing blood to pool and veins to turn into lumpy knots. When these veins become swollen and congested, they are referred to as varicose veins.
Varicose veins are often painful and can be unsightly, but are usually not life-threatening. However, if left untreated, they may get worse over time and can lead to more serious conditions, including inflammation and leg ulcers.
Varicose veins are not the same thing as so-called ‘thread’ or ‘spider’ veins. These can also be unsightly, but are smaller and develop more closely to the surface of the skin.
Varicose veins are often dark blue or red, and appear swollen and twisted. While some patients do not have any symptoms, it is common to experience swelling, itching, burning, pain and a sense of heaviness. These symptoms tend to be made worse by prolonged standing or sitting. Patients with more serious cases may experience skin changes, including dryness, thinning, scaling, colour changes, inflammation and sores.
To diagnose you, your doctor will perform a physical examination and take your medical history. In addition, your doctor may use Duplex Doppler ultrasound, a non-invasive diagnostic test, to further evaluate the veins.
The pain and swelling caused by varicose veins can usually be reduced by applying bandages or support stockings. When these efforts do not improve the condition or the condition is more severe, other treatments may be necessary. Options include surgical removal and using laser or high-frequency sound waves in a minimally invasive procedure.