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Varicose veins

Contents of this page:


Varicose veins
Varicose veins
Circulatory system
Circulatory system

Alternative Names    Return to top

Varicosity; Varicosis

Definition    Return to top

Varicose veins are swollen, twisted, painful veins that have filled with an abnormal collection of blood.

See also:

Causes    Return to top

In normal veins, valves in the vein keep blood moving forward toward the heart. With varicose veins, the valves do not function properly, allowing blood to remain in the vein. Pooling of blood in a vein causes it to enlarge.

This process usually occurs in the veins of the legs, although it may occur elsewhere. Varicose veins are common, affecting mostly women.

Causes include congenitally defective valves, thrombophlebitis, and pregnancy. Prolonged standing and increased pressure within the abdomen may increase susceptibility to the development of varicose veins or aggravate the condition.

Primary varicose veins occur because of congenitally defective valves, or without a known cause. Secondary varicose veins occur because of another condition, such as occurs when a pregnant woman develops varicose veins.

Symptoms    Return to top

Exams and Tests    Return to top

The diagnosis is based primarily on the characteristic appearance of the legs when the patient is standing or is seated with the legs dangling. At times a physician may order a duplex ultrasound exam of extremity to see blood flow and characterize the vessels, and to rule out other disorders of the legs. Rarely, an angiography of the legs may be performed to rule out other disorders.

Treatment    Return to top

Treatment is usually conservative. The patient will be asked to avoid excess standing, elevate the legs when resting or sleeping, and to wear elastic support hose.

Treatment may be requested to improve the appearance. Surgery such as vein stripping and ligation (removal of the varicose vein), or sclerotherapy of veins (injecting with a solution that causes scarring, which closes the vein) may be recommended. Vein stripping is a very extensive procedure, and it is usually reserved for patients who are experiencing a lot of pain or who have skin ulcers.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Varicose veins tend to worsen over time. Discomfort and progression may be lessened with self care.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if varicose veins are painful, or if they worsen or do not improve with self-treatment, such as keeping legs elevated or avoiding excessive standing.

Also call if complications occur, including a sudden increase in pain or swelling, fever, redness of the leg, or the development of leg ulcers.

Prevention    Return to top

Avoid prolonged standing if personal or family history indicates you are at risk of developing varicose veins.

Update Date: 8/8/2008

Updated by: Charlotte Grayson, MD, Private Practice specializing in Internal Medicine, Smyrna, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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