Everything You Need to Know About Varicose Veins Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Generally more common in women and older adults, varicose veins affect 22 million women and 11 million men between the ages of 40 to 80 years. Some people consider varicose veins only a cosmetic issue, but this isn’t the case. Varicose veins are part of the spectrum of chronic venous disease that includes spider telangiectasias, reticular veins, and true varicosities.
Chronic venous disease, also known as vein disease or venous insufficiency, is a progressive condition that can cause painful symptoms, impact your quality of life, and place you at increased risk for dangerous health conditions like blood clots and venous ulcers. Most often, the lower extremities (legs, ankles, and feet) are affected. Symptoms of varicose veins in the legs can include swelling, cramping, itching, and fatigue.
Below, we discuss varicose veins’ various signs and symptoms, what causes varicose veins in legs, and who might benefit from minimally invasive vein treatment. If you have additional questions, we recommend consulting a vein specialist.
The Basics on Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted, near visible veins that usually develop on the legs, ankles, and feet. They tend to be purple or blue, rise above the skin’s surface, and measure three millimeters or greater in diameter.
Varicose veins are a sign of an underlying condition called vein disease, or venous insufficiency. It develops when your body cannot efficiently pump blood from the lower extremities back up to the heart. This is the result of damage to tiny, one-way vein valves. Once damaged, your vein valves can begin to malfunction and affect circulation, eventually leading to blood pooling in your legs, ankles, and feet.
Common early-stage varicose vein symptoms include leg achiness, swelling, and heaviness. Individuals with varicose veins may also experience leg cramping, along with sensations like itchiness, burning, and numbness. Varicose vein symptoms are often mild in the early stages of vein disease, increasing severity over time.
As vein disease progresses, more serious signs and symptoms can develop, such as skin problems. You may begin to notice skin dryness, flaking, thickening, cracking, redness, or darkening near visible veins. Over time, these skin changes can lead to the development of venous ulcers or open, non-healing wounds. Along with being painful, venous ulcers can cause infection when left untreated.
Additionally, a couple of different types of blood clots can develop when varicose veins are present. One type is called superficial thrombophlebitis, which occurs in veins close to the surface of the skin. Although not dangerous in itself, superficial thrombophlebitis can lead to the development of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in the deep venous system.
DVT is considered more serious than superficial thrombophlebitis, because the blood clot breaks off and travels to the lung, it can lead to pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
Common Varicose Vein Symptoms
Similar to many other health conditions, symptoms of varicose veins in the legs can vary from person to person. Some patients may experience only occasional mild achiness, while others cannot perform normal daily activities due to chronic leg pain and swelling. Whether you suffer from early-stage varicose veins symptoms or more advanced varicose vein pain symptoms, we encourage you to visit a vein specialist to explore your treatment options.
Signs and symptoms of varicose veins in the legs can include:
- Swelling: Along with the visible veins, swollen legs, ankles, and feet are common signs of vein disease. Some patients observe that their shoes feel tighter, while others report pain or discomfort in swollen areas. If you notice unexplained swelling in your lower extremities near varicose veins, we recommend seeking medical evaluation.
- Cramping: Leg cramps are another common effect of venous insufficiency. You may suffer from cramps at night that impact sleep, or you notice daytime cramping in your calves, thighs, or buttocks. Since there are many possible explanations for leg cramps, it is important to visit your doctor to diagnose the underlying cause.
- Heaviness: If you have enlarged, visible veins and your legs seem unusually heavy, you may want to visit an experienced vein specialist. People with varicose veins sometimes feel as though they are carrying weights around their ankles.
- Numbness: Another potential varicose vein symptom is numbness in the legs and feet. This may occur when blood circulation slows due to venous insufficiency.
- Itching and burning: Skin changes near varicose veins can indicate advancing vein disease. Although you may be tempted to use regular lotions and creams, they probably won’t be effective. Treating underlying vein disease can bring relief to this type of discomfort.
- Pain relief when legs are elevated: If you have leg pain that is alleviated by propping your feet and legs up, this may be an early-stage varicose vein symptom.
If you are experiencing any of the above signs and symptoms of varicose veins, we recommend consulting a vein specialist for further evaluation.
Varicose Vein Causes and Risk Factors
What causes varicose veins in the legs? While venous insufficiency is the underlying cause of varicose veins, there are a number of related risk factors that can lead to its development.
Risk factors for varicose veins include:
- Standing or sitting for prolonged periods: People who perform jobs or activities that involve long periods of standing or sitting throughout the day are at increased risk for developing varicose veins. To mitigate this risk, it may be helpful to take frequent breaks and move around as much as possible. When you cannot change positions, you can try stretching out and massaging your legs, ankles, and feet. Additionally, exercising regularly can promote better blood circulation.
- Having obesity or overweight: Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) can help prevent the development of additional varicose veins and bring relief to current varicose vein symptoms. If you are struggling to lose weight, talk to your doctor about recommended weight loss programs.
- Genetics: Having a family history of varicose veins makes it more likely that you will develop them, too. If you have a parent (or both parents) with venous issues, you may require close monitoring by a vein specialist. If you already have early-stage varicose vein symptoms, it is generally advised to intervene as soon as possible.
- Aging: Although individuals of any age can develop varicose veins, getting older increases your risk of varicose veins. The majority of people are diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 80.
- Being female: Women are significantly more likely than men to develop signs and symptoms of varicose veins.
- Pregnancy: Increased blood volume and hormones during pregnancy can lead to the appearance of varicose veins, along with worsening varicose vein symptoms. Along with impacting the legs, pregnant women may develop venous issues in the pelvic region.
Healthy lifestyle changes can reduce your overall risk of developing varicose veins. They may also alleviate some varicose vein symptoms. However, lifestyle modifications aren’t enough to treat the underlying condition of these symptoms. Treatment for vein disease can relieve painful and unsightly symptoms, and there are a range of minimally invasive options for you to choose from.
Discover Minimally Invasive Vein Treatment at USA Vein Clinics
Whether you are experiencing discomfort from early-stage varicose vein symptoms or suffering from advanced varicose vein pain symptoms, our trusted vein specialists can help. At USA Vein Clinics, we perform a range of minimally invasive treatments that can alleviate your varicose vein symptoms, along with reducing your risks of developing additional venous issues.
For personalized treatment recommendations, schedule an appointment with one of our empathetic specialists today, or call us at 888.768.3467. We offer expert consultations at over 100 locations across the country, along with virtual doctor visits.