Varicose veins

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Varicose veins are veins that have become enlarged and tortuous. The term commonly refers to the veins on the leg,[1] although varicose veins can occur elsewhere. Veins have leaflet valves to prevent blood from flowing backwards (retrograde). Leg muscles pump the veins to return blood to the heart, against the effects of gravity. When veins become varicose, the leaflets of the valves no longer meet properly, and the valves do not work. This allows blood to flow backwards and they enlarge even more. Varicose veins are most common in the superficial veins of the legs, which are subject to high pressure when standing. Besides cosmetic problems, varicose veins are often painful, especially when standing or walking. They often itch, and scratching them can cause ulcers. Serious complications are rare. Non-surgical treatments include sclerotherapy, elastic stockings, elevating the legs, and exercise. The traditional surgical treatment has been vein stripping to remove the affected veins. Newer, less invasive treatments, such as ultrasound-guided foam sclerotherapy, radiofrequency ablation and endovenous laser treatment, are slowly replacing traditional surgical treatments. Because most of the blood in the legs is returned by the deep veins, the superficial veins, which return only about 10 per cent of the total blood of the legs, can usually be removed or ablated without serious harm.[2][3] Varicose veins are distinguished from reticular veins (blue veins) and telangiectasias (spider veins), which also involve valvular insufficiency,[4] by the size and location of the veins. Many patients who suffer with varicose veins seek out the assistance of physicians who specialize in vein care. These physicians are called phlebologists.

Contents

Signs and symptoms

  • Aching, heavy legs (often worse at night and after exercise).
  • Appearance of spider veins (telangiectasia) in the affected leg.
  • Ankle swelling.
  • A brownish-blue shiny skin discoloration near the affected veins.
  • Redness, dryness, and itchiness of areas of skin - termed stasis dermatitis or venous eczema, because of waste products building up in the leg.
  • Cramps may develop especially when making a sudden move as standing up.
  • Minor injuries to the area may bleed more than normal and/or take a long time to heal.
  • In some people the skin above the ankle may shrink (lipodermatosclerosis) because the fat underneath the skin becomes hard.
  • Restless legs syndrome appears to be a common overlapping clinical syndrome in patients with varicose veins and other chronic venous insufficiency.
  • Whitened, irregular scar-like patches can appear at the ankles. This is known as atrophie blanche.

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