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.
Risk factors include:
- Age. Varicose veins are more common in older adults, because of the wear and tear on the valves that accumulates throughout life.
- 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. People who worked in jobs that required extended periods of standing or sitting are at greater risk.
The chief symptoms of varicose veins are:
- Bulging or twisted veins that can often be seen externally, and which may be dark blue or purple.
- Bruising, burning, itching, small spasms, 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.
Your healthcare professional may diagnose chronic venous insufficiency when you have chronic varicose veins that lead to skin discoloration or swelling of the legs and ankles. This condition may also cause more serious pain, heaviness, or cramping in the legs, as well as 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 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 the vein inflammation and blood clot occurs in a large vein deep within your body. .
Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis include swelling, pain, tenderness, redness, a brownish discoloration, 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 mor than the other leg. These are especially common after surgery or a long period of inactivity.
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 (pulmonary embolism).
If you experience any symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, seek medical attention immediately.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012