More than 40 million Americans have varicose veins, and many people have a family history of the condition. These twisted, swollen veins are more than just an aesthetic issue; they may indicate circulatory problems and in rare cases can lead to complications like ulcers and blood clots.
While it’s not possible to stop varicose veins from forming, catching the condition early leads to better outcomes. Here’s what you should know.
Understanding varicose veins
Your veins are an important part of your circulatory system that carries blood to your heart. In people with varicose veins, the one-way valves meant to keep blood flowing toward the heart become weak or damaged, causing blood to back up and pool in the veins.
This causes the characteristic swelling that varicose veins are known for. While any vein can become varicose, you’re more likely to develop them in your legs.
Knowing your risk
Certain factors increase your risk of developing varicose veins, such as pregnancy. Your chances of having varicose veins also increases if you have any of the following risk factors:
Family history: Nearly 50% of people with varicose veins have a family history of the condition. If you have family members with varicose veins, you’re more likely to develop them, too.
Overweight or obesity: Carrying excess weight places pressure on your veins, causing them to weaken and raising the chances of developing varicose veins.
Sitting or standing for long periods: Staying in the same position for too long increases the pressure on your veins, and blood doesn’t flow as when you’re moving around. Over time, this pressure can cause the valves to weaken and varicose veins to form.
Age: As you get older, the valves that control blood flow can naturally become weak, paving the way for varicose veins.
Damaged veins: Any damage to your veins from other conditions can raise your risk of developing varicose veins.
Early warning signs and symptoms
Before varicose veins form, you may notice some symptoms hinting at vein trouble.
If your feet and ankles swell after a long day, this may indicate that you’re at risk of developing varicose veins. If it happens once, you may have no need to worry. However, if you notice that your feet and ankles swell on a regular basis, it’s likely an early warning sign.
Legs that ache after walking or doing other types of physical activity may be telling you something. People who experience cramping and achy legs after physical activity are more likely to develop varicose veins.
Spots on lower legs
If you’re worried about developing varicose veins, examine your lower legs for red spots. These spots can be an early sign that blood vessels in your legs have weakened and burst.
Before the tell-tale swelling of varicose veins appears, some people notice an unnatural shine to their legs or an unnatural pigmentation on the surface of the skin. You may also notice that your legs itch or seem to peel.
Diagnosis and treatment
In addition to a visual exam, your doctor may recommend diagnostic tests like an ultrasound to check the blood flow of your veins. If you’re diagnosed with varicose veins, you can take steps to delay other varicose veins from forming and to prevent the ones you have from getting worse.
Conservative treatment for varicose veins begins with lifestyle changes, such as losing weight if you’re overweight. Elevating your legs helps blood flow, and your doctor also may recommend wearing compression stockings. Medical procedures are available to remove or close varicose veins.
Early diagnosis of varicose veins can lead to simpler treatments. In some instances, if left untreated, varicose veins can cause pain and other symptoms that limit your mobility. For more information about varicose vein screening and treatment, visit Advanced Cardiovascular Care’s office in Riverside, California, by calling our knowledgeable staff to schedule an appointment.