What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are enlarged, lumpy, or swollen veins that appear most often in the legs or feet. They occur when malfunctioning veins cause a reverse blood flow that increases the pressure inside the veins to three to four times the normal amount. This increase in pressure causes the veins to bulge and usually results in inflammation and pain.
About one in five American adults have varicose veins, yet many ignore the condition until it causes serious discomfort. Those who experience aching, throbbing, itching, burning, swollen veins that interfere with daily activities may have developed varicose veins. You are more likely to develop varicose veins if you are:
- over 50 years old
- a smoker
- spend most of your day on your feet
- have a family history of varicose veins
How do I know if I have varicose veins instead of spider veins or reticular veins?
It’s easy to confuse the various venous conditions that can surface over time and with extensive standing and sitting, so it’s best not to self-diagnose. Many people see red or blue markings on their legs and assume they have varicose veins when that may not be the case. You may be seeing spider veins, which:
- are smaller than varicose veins
- develop closer to the skin’s surface than varicose veins
- appear not only on legs, but also on the face
- resemble a spider’s web
Often mistaken for varicose veins, reticular veins are another vein condition that develops when problematic veins begin to twist and dilate after allowing too much blood to flow backwards. Reticular veins are sometimes referred to as feeder veins, as they can lead to more substantial spider veins. You may have reticular veins if you have:
- unsightly blue or purple lines on your leg or thigh that do NOT protrude above the skin
- blue veins that measure about 2mm in diameter
- vein clusters on inner and outer thighs, legs, ankles and sometimes on the face
Because the differences between these vein conditions are sometimes subtle, it’s best to schedule a diagnostic ultrasound with a vein specialist to determine which treatment is appropriate for you.
How do I relieve the pain of varicose veins?
While you can’t fully prevent varicose veins from developing, you can potentially slow the rate of growth and severity, making them less painful. Follow these measures to help prevent or delay the onset of pain caused by varicose veins:
- exercising and elevating your legs
- watching your weight while eating more fiber and less salt
- switching between sitting or standing positions often