If you’ve recently noticed some swollen, raised, abnormal veins on your legs, it’s understandable to be alarmed. This is especially true if you’re also experiencing some aching in your legs. You could be dealing with varicose veins.
What Are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are large, swollen, twisted, rope-like veins that can be seen and felt under the skin. They’re most commonly found on the calf or thigh. These bulging veins are often visible on the skin’s surface, and they can be painful.
When your blood vessels work effectively, they have one-way stop valves that help keep blood flowing toward your heart.
But if the valves (or vein walls) become weak or damaged, blood flow can back-up and pool in your veins.
The important thing to remember is that these swollen veins are remarkably common. They are said to affect up to 25% of women and 15% of men, with those numbers increasing substantially after age 50. It’s estimated that up to 25 million Americans may have varicose veins.1
Why Would I Get These Swollen Veins?
Certain factors might increase the likelihood of getting these bulging veins. These include:
- A family history
- Having a job that involves long periods of standing, sitting, or heavy lifting
- A history of prior blood clots
- Limited physical activity
- Being female (estrogen seems to play a part)2
Varicose vs Spider Veins
You may also have heard of “spider veins.” Spider veins form the same way that varicose veins do – weakened vein walls or valves cause blood flow to pool in the blood vessels.
But spider veins occur in tiny, superficial veins that you can see on the skin, but not feel. And, they don’t usually cause other symptoms.
Varicose veins occur in larger leg veins and they appear (and feel) more rope-like because they cause the skin to bulge. They can also cause throbbing, aching legs, and itchiness.3
What Can Be Done for Unsightly Veins?
While spider veins are usually only treated for cosmetic reasons, varicose veins are often treated to both improve appearance and prevent future complications. This is because they often tend to progress and get more severe.
If left alone, varicose-type veins may cause increased pain, hardened skin, skin disorders, bleeding, ulcers, and even blood clots.4
Doctors often recommend these four treatments:
Lifestyle Changes: Weight loss, exercise, quitting smoking, elevating the legs, and avoiding standing or sitting for long periods might help.
Compression Therapy: Wearing compression socks/stockings aren’t just for preventing blood clots. They may also improve blood flow and decrease swelling in the legs.
Ablative Procedures: Sclerotherapy, radiofrequency, or lasers can all safely remove or destroy the vein. Removing or closing a vein is not a concern, as blood will start moving through other leg veins.
Surgery: The most invasive of all the procedures, surgery can remove or close a problematic vein.5
How To Prevent Varicose Veins
Unfortunately, not everyone can prevent varicose veins. But you can try to live a healthy lifestyle in order to delay them, or stop them from becoming worse. You can do this by:
- Improving your blood flow and muscle tone by sticking to a regular exercise routine
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not sitting or standing for long periods of time
- Eating a high-fiber, low-salt diet
- Elevating your legs while sitting or lying down
- Avoiding wearing high heels or tight stockings6
For Healthy Veins, Don’t Ignore Varicose Veins
While varicose veins are most often found in the leg veins, they can form in other parts of your body. Although these swollen blood vessels can be alarming, talking to your doctor can be a great first step to getting relief.
Your doctor will be able to recommend the best course of action for you. And, try to live your healthiest lifestyle in order to give your veins their best chance at staying healthy.