If you suffer from the effects of varicose veins, you may wonder what causes them to develop in the first place. Varicose veins are enlarged, bulging, visible veins often accompanied by pain or discomfort. They usually appear on the legs, ankles, and feet but can also affect other areas of the body.
Common varicose vein symptoms include:
- Heaviness or achiness in the legs
- Leg cramps (especially at night)
- Skin discoloration
Below, we discuss what causes varicose veins in legs, what causes varicose veins on ankles, how to keep your varicose veins from getting worse, and why vein treatment can help prevent dangerous health issues. If you have additional questions, we recommend consulting a vein doctor.
What Causes Varicose Veins in Legs, Ankles, and Feet?
Varicose veins are signs of underlying vein disease, also known as venous insufficiency. Vein disease occurs when your vein valves are continuously under strain and begin to malfunction.
Dr. Yan Katsnelson shares his knowledge on the subject, stating, “This makes it challenging for your heart to pump blood against gravity efficiently. Instead, blood begins to pool in your lower extremities, such as your legs, ankles, and feet.”
This process can lead to varicose veins and other venous conditions like spider veins and restless legs syndrome (RLS). Although varicose veins can appear in other areas of the body, the legs are the most common site affected.
Common symptoms of vein disease include:
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- Tired, aching legs
- Burning in the calf or thigh
- Leg pain that feels better when you walk or raise your legs
- Itchy, dry skin
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Difficulty standing for long periods
- Non-healing wounds on your legs
It is important to understand that vein disease can place you at risk for a number of serious health conditions, including venous ulcers and blood clots.
Venous ulcers are open, non-healing wounds that usually develop on the lower legs or around the ankles. When left untreated, they can lead to serious infection.
Common signs of venous ulcers include:
- Itchy, scaly, dry skin on the legs
- Hardened skin around the ulcer
- Heavy feeling in the legs
- Red, purple, or brown color on the skin
- Swollen and enlarged veins on the legs
- Cracked or dry skin that may open up
- Swollen ankles
- Unpleasant and foul-smelling discharge from the ulcer
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a dangerous type of blood clot in the deep venous system, can also occur. The deep venous system refers to veins located deep within the body.
Common signs of DVT include:
- Leg pain
- Redness or skin discoloration
- Cramping in the calf
If you experience any of the above DVT symptoms, seek medical attention as soon as possible. If a piece of a blood clot breaks off, it can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs. This can lead to pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency care.
Common signs of pulmonary embolism include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
- Coughing up blood
- Feeling lightheaded or faint
- Chest pain or discomfort that worsens with a deep breath or cough
If you experience any of the above pulmonary embolism symptoms, call 911 immediately or head directly to the nearest emergency room.
Risk Factors for Varicose Veins
While exploring what causes varicose veins and their potential consequences, you may also want to consider your individual risk factors. The good news is that certain risk factors can sometimes be controlled with lifestyle changes. The bad news is that other risk factors are beyond your control.
Common risk factors for varicose veins include:
Genetics: Family medical history is a key component behind the development of varicose veins. If you have a parent or close relative with vein problems, you are more likely to develop them. If both of your parents have varicose veins, your risk further increases.
Age: As with many health conditions, your risk for developing varicose veins increases as you get older. Although varicose veins are more likely to appear after age 50, plenty of younger people are affected.
Sex: Women are four times more likely to develop varicose veins. This may be in part due to pregnancy being another risk factor.
Pregnancy: Due to increased blood flow and an influx of hormones, pregnant women are more likely than others to be affected.
Prolonged sitting or standing: Do you have a job where you are on your feet or sitting in a chair for hours each day? If so, you are at higher risk for developing vein disease.
Excess weight: If you are obese or overweight, you are more likely to experience symptoms of varicose veins. This is because excess weight puts additional strain on your veins, causing damage.
Inactivity: Along with weight gain, inactivity can affect your blood circulation and lead to problems with your veins.
Smoking: This unhealthy habit can weaken veins and reduce blood flow. It can also contribute to a range of serious health conditions like heart and lung disease.
High blood pressure: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can result in strained vein valves. This can lead to the development of varicose veins.
If you have underlying risk factors for varicose veins, you may benefit from close monitoring by a vein specialist. Our doctors can make personalized recommendations on lifestyle modifications that may benefit you, along with discussing your treatment options when necessary.
How To Keep Varicose Veins From Getting Worse
As mentioned above, certain lifestyles and health factors can increase your risks of developing vein disease. Now, you may be wondering what causes varicose veins to get worse. Many of the same factors that cause varicose veins can also worsen symptoms. While varicose veins don’t typically go away on their own, there may be some things you can do to maintain the status quo.
- Managing your weight
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding prolonged periods of standing or sitting
- Quitting smoking
- Controlling your blood pressure, along with other underlying health conditions
- Elevating your legs when possible
- Talking to your doctor about wearing compression socks
- Consulting a vein specialist to learn about minimally invasive vein treatment
At USA Vein Clinics, our board-certified vein doctors are highly experienced professionals who care about your quality of life.
Minimally Invasive, Office-Based Vein Treatment
The reality is that you can’t always control the development or worsening of varicose veins and their symptoms. This is where the relief of vein treatment comes in. At USA Vein Clinics, we offer a variety of effective vein treatment options. Our experts aim to reduce varicose vein symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.
“All of our treatments are minimally-invasive, office-based procedures. Although recommended approaches vary, they all work by sealing off diseased veins and diverting blood flow to the surrounding ones,” shares Yan Katsnelson, M.D.
Most treatments take only 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the number of veins involved. Afterward, you can leave immediately and return to normal activities. You may be advised to wear compression stockings for a couple of days to several weeks.
Our minimally-invasive vein treatment techniques include:
Endovenous Laser Therapy (EVLT)
Endovenous Laser Therapy is considered the gold standard for treating varicose veins and vein disease symptoms. During the EVLT procedure, your doctor inserts a thin laser fiber into the affected vein while using ultrasound for guidance. Then, they use lasers to heat the fiber and close off the malfunctioning vein.
ClariVein®, or mechanochemical ablation, is a catheter-based treatment. The unique catheter involved has a rotating tip at one end. It simultaneously uses mechanical and chemical methods to treat damaged veins.
Visual Sclerotherapy Injections
Small varicose or spider veins can be treated with Visual Sclerotherapy. A sclerosant solution is injected through a tiny needle into the affected vein with this method. The solution intentionally irritates the inside of the vein, causing it to swell and seal shut.
Varithena Vein Treatment
This foam-based treatment is usually used to treat vein conditions in the Great Saphenous Vein (GSV) and surrounding areas. During this procedure, ultrasound guides a small needle or catheter into the diseased vein. Then, Varithena foam is injected, which ultimately causes the vein to collapse.
Ultrasound-Guided Sclerotherapy uses live ultrasound imaging to treat varicose veins near the skin’s surface. During the procedure, a sclerosant solution is injected, which irritates and closes off affected veins.
In some cases, multiple treatments or more than one treatment method may be recommended. For personalized recommendations, we suggest visiting one of our leading vein specialists.
Varicose Vein Treatment at USA Vein Clinics
If you are tired of living with pain, heaviness, itching, burning, and swelling associated with varicose veins on legs, our vein treatment specialists are available to help. At USA Vein Clinics, we are passionate about developing an individualized care plan for each of our patients.
No matter what causes varicose veins, minimally invasive, outpatient vein treatment may be the solution.
Reviewed By Dr. Yan Katsnelson
Dr. Yan Katsnelson is a philanthropist, business owner, and highly skilled cardiac surgeon. He is the Founder and CEO of USA Vein Clinics, which is part of USA Clinics Group, the parent company of USA Fibroid Centers, USA Vascular Centers, and USA Oncology Centers with more than 90 facilities nationwide. Dr. Yan has established himself as a strong advocate for accessibility and affordability of the most advanced medical care close to home, and his mission is to create a positive experience for each patient with compassionate, personalized, and expert care.