Aging & Health A to Z
Varicose Veins and Other Vein Disorders
Causes & Symptoms
Although varicose veins can occur in any part of your body, you’ll usually find them in your lower body, legs, or feet.
That’s because blood moving through these veins has to work against gravity to return to your heart. When the valves in your veins become weaker and leaky, blood can flow backward and pool in your veins, which causes them to become enlarged or twisted.
Here are examples of things that can put you at risk for developing varicose veins:
- Age. Varicose veins are more common in older adults, because of the lifetime of wear and tear on the valves.
- Family history. The tendency toward having varicose veins can be inherited.
- Gender. Women’s blood vessels are designed to be flexible, which makes it easier for varicose veins to develop.
- Obesity. Extra body weight puts more pressure on the veins.
- Prolonged standing or sitting. People who worked in jobs that required extended periods of standing or sitting are at greater risk.
- The presence of central venous catheters in your body.
- Having had surgery or having experienced a trauma to the body (such as an accident, fall, etc.)
- Having chronic lung disease, which can increase the pooling of blood in your lower body.
- Experiencing dehydration.
The chief symptoms of varicose veins are:
- Bulging or twisted veins that you can see under the skin. They may be dark blue or purple.
- Bruising, burning, itching, cramping, or aching in the legs, made worse by standing.
- Swelling of the legs that is better in the morning and worse as the day goes on.
- Pain or warmth in the legs.
Chronic Venous Insufficiency and Superficial Thrombophlebitis
You may have varicose veins that lead to changes in your skin color or swelling of the legs and ankles. Your healthcare provider may diagnose this as a condition called chronic venous insufficiency. This condition may cause serious pain, heaviness, cramping, skin sores, or ulcers.
Varicose veins can lead to inflammation inside the vein, which in turn can lead to blood clots. These occur most commonly in the legs, but they can also occur in the arms. If the clot is in a vein close to the skin, it is called superficial thrombophlebitis.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot occurs in a large vein deep within your body.
Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include swelling, pain, tenderness, redness, a brownish color change in your skin, and warmth. Symptoms usually become worse at the end of the day and may get better temporarily after you lie down at night. It may become painful to walk, and the leg with the clot in it often swells much more than the other leg. These are especially common after surgery or a long period of inactivity, like a long road trip or airplane ride.
A clot in a deep vein increases your risk of serious health problems. For example, a dislodged clot (embolism) could travel to your lungs and block a pulmonary artery, causing a condition called pulmonary embolism.
If you experience any symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, seek medical attention immediately.
Updated: July 2017
Posted: March 2012