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Varicose Veins: What are they and how do you get rid of them

Updated on July 6, 2007

The word "varicose" comes from the Latin root "varix," which means "twisted." Varicose veins are a common condition in the United States, affecting up to 15 percent of men and up to 25 percent of women.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are veins that have become enlarged and/or twisted. We usually hear the word used when referring to viens on the legs, but varicose viens can form anywhere on the body. (However, as you read on you will see why woman have a greater chance of developing them in their legs).

Varicose veins can range from what we commonly call "spider veins"- small blue veins that a simply a cosmetic concern, to painful large blue veins which can lead to serious circulation problems.

The difference between varicose veins and spider veins

Varicose veins are dark purple or blue in color and may and look like the are twisted and buldging, they look like long cords that have been all twisted up. They commonly appear on the backs of the calves or on the inside of the leg. However, they can form anywhere on your legs, from your groin to your ankle.

Spider veins are smaller and can be blue or red in color. They occur on the legs, but can also be found on the face. Spider veins vary in size and often look like a spider's web or a tree branch.

Signs and symptoms of varicose veins

The signs and symptoms can range from small blue veins to painful swollen legs- some of the common symptoms are the following:

  • Small blue veins that appear continuously and even when you are off your feet
  • An achy or heavy feeling in your legs, including throbbing and muscle cramping
  • Swollen legs, which worsens when standing or sitting for long periods of time
  • Skin ulcers near your ankle (this represents a serious medical problem and you should notify your doctor immediately)

Causes of varicose veins

These veins are the result of circulatory problems, these problems can be caused by a number of factors, including the following:

  • Pregnancy. Pregnancy increases the volume of blood in your body, but decreases the flow of blood from your legs to your pelvis. This circulatory change is designed to support the growing fetus, but it can produce an unfortunate side effect - enlarged veins in your legs.
  • Age. Aging causes wear and tear on the valves in your veins that help regulate blood flow. Eventually, that wear causes the valves to malfunction.
  • Sex. Women are more likely than men are to develop the condition. Hormonal changes during pregnancy, premenstruation or menopause may be a factor. Female hormones tend to relax vein walls. Taking hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills may increase your risk of varicose veins.
  • Genetics. If other family members had varicose veins, there's a greater chance you will too.
  • Obesity. Being overweight puts added pressure on your veins.
  • Standing for long periods of time. Your blood doesn't flow as well if you're in the same position for long periods.

Treatment and Prevention

The best way to prevent and treat varicose veins is to improve circulation, here are some things that can help you do that:

  • Exercise. Get your legs moving. Walking is a great way to encourage blood circulation in your legs. Your doctor can recommend an appropriate activity level for you.
  • Watch your weight, and your diet. Shedding excess pounds takes unnecessary pressure off your veins. What you eat makes a difference, too. Follow a low-salt, high-fiber diet to prevent the swelling that may result from water retention and constipation.
  • Watch what you wear. Avoid high heels. Low-heeled shoes work calf muscles more, which is better for your veins. Don't wear tight clothes around your waist, legs or groin. Tight panty-leg girdles, for instance, can restrict circulation.
  • Elevate your legs. To improve venous circulation, take several short breaks daily to elevate your legs above the level of your heart. For example, lie down with your legs resting on three or four pillows.
  • Avoid long periods of sitting or standing. Make a point of changing your position frequently to encourage blood flow. Try to move around at least every 30 minutes.
  • Don't sit with your legs crossed. This position can aggravate circulation problems.

If these measures don't seem to work you may want to discuss surgery with your doctor- most of the surgeries done today are simple laser surgery which provide for an easy treatment and a quick recovery.


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  • Isabella Snow profile image

    Isabella Snow 10 years ago

    Good hub!

    I have had barely-there spider veins around my ankles since I was about 22. Comes from wearing 6 inch heels and standing in basically 1 place for 3 and 4 hours at a time. You would need to put your nose right up to my ankle to see them - but I hate them!

    Now that Im 30ish, I have gone down to 4 inch heels (lol, I know, its still high, but hey, Im short!) and still have the same job (singing) and stand for 3 and 4 hours at a time.. but now I also write trashy books and spend 16 hours a day sitting down, sometimes.

    I have a little box under my desk now and keep my feet propped up, it helps a lot.