What are varicose veins and spider veins?

Varicose veins and spider veins commonly develop as we grow older. Varicose veins are large, raised and swollen blood vessels. They usually develop on the legs and feet. Spider veins are smaller, red to purple and blue dilated vessels. They most often develop on the legs and thighs.

Who is affected by varicose veins and spider veins?

An estimated 30% to 60% of adults have varicose veins or spider veins. Varicose veins and spider veins develop more often in women than in men. They increase in frequency with age.

What causes varicose veins and spider veins?

A number of factors predispose a person to varicose and spider veins. These include:

  • Genetics
  • Occupations that require standing for prolonged periods of time (such jobs as nursing, hair styling, teaching, working in a factory)
  • Obesity
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy
  • Birth control pills
  • Post-menopausal hormonal replacement therapy
  • History of blood clots
  • Conditions that cause increased intra-abdominal pressure (such as tumors, pregnancy, constipation)

Other reported causes include topical steroids, trauma or injury to the skin, previous venous surgery, exposure to ultraviolet rays, and abdominal girdles.

What are the symptoms of varicose veins and spider veins?

Many patients with varicose veins complain of an aching pain or cramping in the legs. Other common symptoms include tiredness, restlessness, burning, throbbing, tingling, or heaviness in the legs. Pain caused by varicose veins is usually relieved by elevating the legs or by wearing support hose.

In women, symptoms might be worse during the menstrual cycle or during pregnancy. Patients also might develop swelling, ulcer formation, and darker pigmentation or color of their skin, especially in the ankle region. Occasionally, varicose veins may develop superficial phlebitis (inflammation of a vein) which is characterized by pain and redness along a varicose vein.

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