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What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are enlarged veins that can be blue, red or flesh-colored. They are often raised above the skin on legs and look like twisted, bulging chords. Varicose veins occur when the valves in the leg veins no longer function, causing blood to pool in the legs. Many patients think varicose veins are simply a cosmetic issue, but if left untreated, they can progress to a more serious form of venous disease called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).

What is venous disease?

Venous disease, which impacts more than 30 million Americans, refers to conditions related to or caused by veins that become diseased or abnormal. The disease occurs when vein walls become weak, damaged, stretched or injured and veins stop working normally, causing the blood to begin to flow backward as the muscles relax. This creates unusually high pressure in the veins.

Venous disease includes conditions such as varicose veins and CVI. If left untreated, varicose veins can progress to CVI, which is a more serious form of venous disease. Signs and symptoms of CVI can worsen over time and include ankle swelling, fatigue, restlessness and pain of the legs, skin changes and ulcers.

What are spider veins?

Spider veins, which often cover the legs and even the face, are damaged veins that appear to be similar to varicose veins, only thinner. Appearing red or blue in color and similarly like thin spider webs or branches, these veins are closer to the skin surface and can spread over a range of areas on the skin; however, unlike varicose veins, spider veins are typically not raised above the skin’s surface. Spider veins can be treated with sclerotherapy and laser treatment and, though they can also be associated with varicose veins or CVI, they are a less threatening symptom of venous disease.

What is Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI)?

CVI is a progressive medical condition that worsens over time and affects the veins and vessels in the leg that carry oxygen-poor blood back toward the heart. Varicose veins, which are enlarged veins in the leg that appear like twisted, bulging chords, can progress to CVI if left untreated.

There are a number of factors that contribute to varicose veins and CVI, including pregnancy and heredity. As varicose veins progress to become CVI, other painful and unsightly signs and symptoms like ankle swelling, fatigue, restlessness and pain of the legs, skin changes and ulcers may occur.

Varicose veins can be treated with various minimally-invasive treatments that are covered by many insurance plans. Unfortunately, while more than 30 million people in the United States suffer from venous disease, only 1.9 million seek treatment each year.

Who is at risk for CVI?

CVI can affect anyone; gender and age are large factors that may increase your risk for developing the disease. For example, women older than 50 are more likely than others to develop venous disease that can lead to CVI. The disease is very often hereditary and can affect several members of the same family.

Additionally, the following factors may increase your risk for developing varicose veins that can progress to become CVI:

  • Family history of varicose veins
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lifestyle that requires standing for long periods of time
  • Excess weight
  • Current or previous pregnancies

Can I prevent CVI?

For mild forms of venous disease, lifestyle changes may be recommended to control symptoms. When symptoms progress, they can be treated with numerous minimally-invasive procedures that are covered by many insurance plans. Managing risk factors such as blood pressure and weight and staying physically active can all help ease the pressure on the veins in the legs.

The following can also help control varicose veins and other signs and symptoms:

  • Avoiding prolonged standing
  • Elevating the feet above the thighs when sitting, and above the heart when lying down
  • Avoiding clothes that are tight around the waist, thighs or legs
  • Strengthening calf muscles through an appropriate exercise plan

Since varicose veins cannot always be prevented, it is important to talk to a vein specialist about treatment options before the condition progresses into CVI and symptoms worsen.

What can happen if I overlook my varicose veins and symptoms of CVI?

Treatments to remove diseased veins can be effective in eliminating the varicose veins and symptoms of CVI, and also preventing the condition from progressing. If left untreated, varicose veins can progress to become CVI, a more serious form of venous disease that will often present increasingly worse signs and symptoms over time that may be more difficult to treat. Those can include ankle swelling, fatigue, restlessness and pain of the legs, skin damage and ulcers.

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