Varicose veins are a very common problem, generally appearing as twisting, bulging rope-like cords on the legs, anywhere from the groin to the ankle. While many people have heard of varicose veins, very few truly understand their underlying cause, and the potential they have for developing into a serious medical issue.
Varicose veins affect an estimated 40% of women and 25% of men. Factors leading to varicose veins include heredity, gender, pregnancy, age and other factors. Some factors may speed up the development of this disease and make the veins worse, including prolonged standing, obesity, hormone levels, and physical trauma.
Arteries carry blood from your heart out to your extremities, delivering oxygen deep into the tissue. Veins then return the de-oxygenated blood (now blue) back to your heart to be re-circulated. To return this blood to the heart, your leg veins must work against gravity. Small, one-way valves in the veins open to allow blood to flow upward, towards the heart, and then close to prevent it from flowing backwards. Varicose veins occur when the valves in superficial leg veins malfunction. When this occurs, the valve may be unable to close, allowing blood that should be moving towards the heart to flow backward (called venous reflux). Blood collects in your lower veins causing them to enlarge and become varicose.
In addition to the visual appearance, many patients may experience one or more of the following leg symptoms: