When a person has varicose veins, it means that the individual’s veins have become enlarged, swollen, and twisted. Varicose veins are carry blood to the heart irregularly. All veins can become a varicose vein. However, when this condition is diagnosed, it is usually made in reference to the veins in the leg that carry blood against gravity up to the heart.
The leg veins have small leaflet valves that prevent the blood from flowing with gravity. In medicine, this is known as retrograde flow. The valves open and shut along with the rhythm of the muscles in the leg, which help to push blood back to the heart against gravity. A varicose vein is caused when the leaflet valves cease to function properly, causing the blood to flow backwards. The retrograde flow of blood causes the vein to enlarge.
The veins that most often become varicose veins are the veins closest to the surface of the leg because they are subject to high pressure when a person is standing. The result is a set of enlarged veins that appear to be disturbed or bruised. In addition to causing legs that are not aesthetically appealing, varicose veins can be painful. Patients suffering from a varicose vein in their legs report increased pain when standing or walking. A varicose vein is often itchy. It may be tempting to scratch superficial varicose veins but this may result in ulceration of the skin.
Persons with varicose veins are not likely to have graver cardiovascular problems as a result of this mechanical failure of the legs’ leaflet valves because the superficial veins that tend to become varicose only carry about 10 percent of the blood in the leg back to the heart. Most of the blood in leg veins are deeper within the leg and are better protected from external pressures.
Varicose veins, however, can lead to several more serious complications if medical attention to a varicose vein is delayed. Such complications include an inability to walk or stand for a long period of time, skin inflammation, venous ulcers and more. Venous ulcers are especially a problem if left untreated as there is an increased risk of a carcinoma or sarcoma cancer developing as a result of an untreated ulcerated varicose vein. If the site of the varicose vein is cut or injured, serious external or internal bleeding could occur. This is especially a cause for concern among the elderly. If the varicose vein is located in a deep part of the leg, there is a serious risk of blood clotting, which could lead to heart attack or stroke.
Obese patients with varicose veins are at risk of losing their feet as a result of acute fat necrosis caused by fat pushing against the varicose veins, cutting off blood circulation. Blood oxygenates tissue and keeps it alive. Necrosis kills tissue leading to necessary amputation of the food at the ankle. This complication is more common among obese women with a varicose vein in the ankle than men with the same problem.
Certain people are more prone to developing varicose veins due to heredity. Other risk factors are stresses on the circulatory system from pregnancy, obesity, menopause, and aging.