Most doctors find the whole topic of varicose veins boring. In fact, many doctors do not know a lot about them. The whole topic has been neglected because it is just another one of those annoying problems that mainly affects women. Approximately 40 percent of women have varicose veins, and the amount of suffering and disability from aching, swollen and painful veins is considerable.
The circulation of the blood to and through all the tissues of the body is an incredible feat of engineering. Approximately 60,000 miles of blood vessels carry oxygen and nutrient rich blood from the heart and return it there carrying waste products and carbon dioxide. The arteries carry the blood away from the heart to the tissues and the veins return the blood back to the heart. Because the veins have to return blood to the heart against the forces of gravity, almost all veins have a system of valves. These valves prevent the backward flow of the blood.
The veins in the legs have many valves because they have to return the blood the longest distance and against the forces of gravity. Two forces help the blood return, the squeezing action of the calf muscles and the pulsing pressure exerted on some veins by the arteries that lie right beside them.
What Are Varicose Veins ?
Varicose veins usually means swollen, elongated surface veins that become twisted and bunched, usually in the lower leg. Dr. Guylaine Lanctot, a specialist in the field, defines them as "veins that are permanently dilated and unable to carry blood back to the heart."
By definition, varicose veins are superficial, which means limited to the surface of the leg, or directly under the skin. This is why diagnosis is best made by a thorough inspection and palpation of the superficial veins by a physician. Complicated diagnostic tools are completely unnecessary.
On the other hand, deep vein problems, involving the deeper veins, cannot be treated. If both legs appear normal in shape and contour, it is very unlikely that the deep veins are involved. If one leg is more swollen than the other, it is possible that the deep veins are involved. The deep veins are rarely affected in women who have varicose veins, except indirectly, when inflammation of the deep veins leads to a secondary problem with the surface veins.
The cause of "primary" varicose veins is unknown. For some reason, the valves in the leg veins become altered and don't function properly. As a result, not all the blood is returned to the heart. Instead, some remains and pools in the veins and tissues surrounding them. Some believe that there is an inherited weakness in the vein wall or the vein valve.
Other factors are known to predispose you to varicose veins. This includes jobs that involve prolonged standing or heavy lifting, constricting clothing, or being markedly overweight. Women are affected almost twice as frequently as men, and the chance of developing varicose veins rises with each pregnancy. The pressure of the pregnant uterus on the pelvic veins appears to interfere with return of blood from the leg veins to the heart.
"Secondary" varicose veins develop secondary to another cause and account for only a small percentage of varicose veins. Usually that cause is phlebitis or inflammation of the deep veins of the legs, which then damages the vein or causes blockages in the superficial veins. This condition is known as post-phlebitis syndrome.
"Spider veins" are relatively harmless, but unsightly in appearance. They have been called broken capillaries and are small bluish blotches found on the sides and back of the leg as well as the feet.
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