A Common Medical Problem
Varicose veins, which are protruding, swollen, weakened veins in the legs, are one of the most common medical problems in America. Vein abnormalities are seen in over 25 million men and women in the U.S., and are twice as common as heart disease and 5 times more common than peripheral arterial disease.
How Varicose Veins Develop
Under normal circumstances, the arteries carry blood from the heart to the legs, and the veins return the blood back to the heart. Normal veins have valves that prevent blood from flowing backwards down the leg. If these valves fail or become stretched out, such as seen during pregnancy, the blood backs up and puts more pressure on the valve below it, causing it to fail and allowing the blood to pool in the lower leg.
Most frequently, the pooling of blood stretches out the veins that become varicosed and causes aching and throbbing. In the most severe cases this pooling of blood causes damage to the skin around the ankle making it brown in color, itch and, if untreated, can lead to ulceration (a wound forming at the ankle).
Spider veins are also quite common but rarely cause any health problems. These are the very fine red and bluish veins that often look like a bruise. They can be treated by injections in the office setting, but are considered cosmetic for insurance purposes. True varicose veins, which are the ones protruding from the skin, can cause leg pain and aching as well as swelling and leg fatigue.