Varicose veins are enlarged, swollen, often knobbly veins which appear principally on the lower limbs. They are usually obvious, distorted bulges but may also be confined to the skin as spider veins.
What are Varicose Veins?
Arteries carry blood from the heart to the periphery, and veins carry that blood back to the heart. Carrying blood all the way from the foot back up to the heart requires a lot of work against gravity. Consequently, healthy veins have one-way valves which make that work easier.
Varicose veins occur when those valves become incompetent or leaky. Without functioning valves the column of blood in the veins creates high pressure around the ankle. This leads to further varicose veins developing and disorders of the skin including eczema, staining and ultimately in some people, leg ulcers.
Fortunately, we are very well provided with veins in our legs. This allows varicose veins to be treated without disturbing the circulation of blood back to the heart through the many other healthy veins.
What causes Varicose Veins?
Humans are the only living species which suffer from varicose veins. Our upright posture creates a large pressure from gravity, against which we have to pump blood back to the heart. In addition, we have loose skin which allows these varicosities to develop.
Conversely, giraffes, while having a much higher gradient than humans, have tight skin. Consequently they do suffer from varicose veins.
Factors associated with the development of Varicose Veins
Family history is a risk factor for the development of varicose veins
Women are much more likely to develop varicose veins than men. Varicose veins occur in 35% of women and 25% of men. In addition women are particularly prone to ugly spider veins around the ankles as a result of female hormones.
Pregnancy, especially multiple pregnancies cause varicose veins. This is not particularly because of any pressure effects from the foetus as is popularly believed. Instead it is principally because of female hormones produced in pregnancy which dilate muscles in the pelvis to soften the birth channel. The same hormones soften the muscle in the veins. Pregnancy can also worsen existing varicose veins.
Aging also is associated with worsening varicose veins. By the time we reach 60 years old, approximately 50% of us will have varicose veins. Spider veins in the skin are particularly common in the elderly.
Occupations that involve standing have been linked to varicose veins, but evidence for this is not as clear.
Caucasians have varicose veins more commonly than non-Caucasians.
Varicose Veins Symptoms
Many varicose veins have no symptoms and are a cosmetic problem. Pain in varicose veins is usually a tiredness or aching in the legs. This especially occurs after standing and is more obvious in the evenings.
If varicose veins are neglected, the may eventually lead to skin damage. Initially the patient may feel itchy and the skin becomes dry and flaky. This is typical of eczema. At this stage the patient may develop skin staining which unfortunately is usually permanent.
Thrombosis and infection in the vein may lead to severe pain and redness, indicative of inflammation. Patients should note that severe pain felt in the leg in the absence of infection or thrombosis may be due to causes other than varicose veins.
Finally, restless leg syndrome which can often disturb people’s sleep can be associated with varicose veins in many cases.
If you have Varicose Veins Vein Clinics of Ireland are here to help!
If you are concerned about bulging and painful varicose veins
Walk-in, walk-out treatment
Medically necessary and cosmetic varicose veins treated
Full range of treatments including minimal access surgery, and both injection and laser sclerotherapy
All Irish health insurances accepted, however insurance plans may vary. Fixed price treatment available
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Consultation €200, Ultrasound covered by Insurance /or €150 for non-insured