A vein is a blood vessel that carries blood low in oxygen content from the body to the lungs and heart. It is a normal part of the circulatory system.Veins can become bulge with pools of blood when they fail to circulate the blood properly. These visible and bulging veins, called varicose veins, are often associated with symptoms such as tired, heavy, or aching limbs. In severe cases, varicose veins can rupture, or open sores (called “ulcers”) can form on the skin. Varicose veins are most common in the legs and thighs.

What are spider veins?

Small “spider veins” also can appear on the skin’s surface. These may look like short, fine lines, “starburst” clusters, or a web-like maze. Spider veins are most common in the thighs, ankles, and feet. They may also appear on the face.

Why do leg veins occur?

Veins most often dilate and become varicose as a result of increased downward pressure on the vein from a point above it. The pressure can be something as temporary as a pregnancy or the straining associated with moving your bowels (both of which increase the abdominal pressure), or as constant as the forces of gravity and your own body weight. Medical studies have found that the composition of a varicosities walls is different from that of normal vein walls thus suggesting something inherently different about varicose veins themselves. Patients often say there is a family history of varicose and spider veins and this most likely will increase ones chances of suffering from them in the future. It is rare but some people are born without the one-way valves that help prevent venous blood from flowing downward instead of upward toward the heart. More commonly however these valves are not functioning correctly as is seen after having suffered a prior phlebitis (blood clot). People who spend lots of time on their feet may increase their chances of getting varicose and spider veins.

Spider veins, unlike varicose veins, most often do not occur in response to increased pressure except for the pressure created by nearby varicosities themselves. They often arise from the presence of the female hormone estrogen which is most likely why these spider veins are seen more commonly in females. Women also are known to have more development of spider veins when their body estrogen levels are elevated such as when they are pregnant when taking oral contraceptives, and obviously when on estrogen replacement therapy.

Causes of Varicose Veins:

Both men and women are affected, with a higher incidence in women. Heredity remains the primary cause of venous disease. Pregnancy, obesity, hormonal influences, and environmental factors – such as prolonged sitting or standing – all can also contribute to the development and progression of vein disease.

All veins have valves. A valve is a check system. The valve keeps blood flowing in the right direction. If the valve is abnormal then blood can reverse its flow. This leads to higher pressure in the vein and gradual enlargement. This is the cause of varicose veins. The longer the process continues, the larger the vein becomes and the symptoms can increase..

Over time the increased pressure can lead to significant symptoms such as: swelling of the ankles or legs, severe pain and aching, and complaints of tired legs. Long-standing varicose vein problems can cause more serious problems such as: skin changes, ulceration, phlebitis (inflammation of the vein), and possible clot formation.

Can varicose veins and spider veins be prevented?

This is a common question patients ask and one for which there is no absolute answer. If you have a family history of varicose or spider veins and its something you have inherited there is obviously nothing you can do to change your genes. If you have a rare condition such as the congenital absence of the one way vein valves it also is something you were born with (or without) and there is little you can do. Being overweight may very well help varicose veins and spider veins to form as this serves to add pressure (weight), onto the legs and make it that much more difficult for the venous blood of the legs to get back up to the heart. Smoking, and drinking are not believed to be related to the presence of varicose and spider veins aside from any weight they may add to your body. Diet also, may be only a weight related issue.

The arteries and veins generally suffer from different medical conditions and the foods we are warned to avoid that are high in fat and cholesterol do cause “hardening of the arteries” but have no effect on the leg veins. Support hose can provide relief from the symptoms of the venous pooling as they act to help ‘squeeze’ the veins so less blood is held in the vessels. It is generally felt that long term, support hose wearing will not prevent veins from forming or cause those veins you already have to disappear.

Sources: Plastic Surgery, Veins Online

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