Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are swollen, bulging and distorted veins. They’re bluish green or colorless in appearance and they’re often unsightly. They typically exceed two millimeters (approximately 0.08 inch) in width and can be up to two centimeters (approximately 0.8 inch) wide.

Varicose veins are commonly found on the insides of the legs, extending from the groin to the ankle, but they can occur in any other part of the body. Varicose veins can present as hemorrhoids (around the anus).

What Causes Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins occur as a result of venous insufficiency in the superficial veins. Veins possess valves that help transport blood back to the heart, by allowing blood to flow in one direction only. If the valves fail to function properly, blood can begin to accumulate in the veins.

Because veins, unlike arteries, have thin walls, the pressure from the accumulation of blood results in the widening of veins and the development of the condition.

Facts and Figures

Here’s a quick summary of relevant facts and data.

  • Around forty million Americans suffer from the condition.
  • Women are twice as likely as men to be sufferers.
  • Approximately 31 percent of women and 17 percent of men are affected.
  • The condition becomes more prevalent with increasing age.
  • The condition is common (but often temporary) during pregnancy.

The term “varicose” is derived from the Latin varix-icis, meaning twisted or distorted.

Spider Veins (Telangiectasia) vs. Varicose Veins

The “spider” description is something of a misnomer because unlike larger, dilated varicose veins, telangiectasia are in fact enlarged capillaries.

Spider veins have a far less gnarled appearance. Red or blue in color, they resemble a spider’s web on the surface of the skin and can appear anywhere on the body, but most commonly on the face or legs.

Often, venous insufficiency may result in a person suffering from both conditions. However, significant circulation problems are present only in rare cases. Therefore, treatment is generally employed simply to relieve symptoms, or for cosmetic reasons.

Common Diagnostic Procedures for Varicose Veins

Physical examination by a physician is often sufficient to diagnose the condition.

Other common diagnostic procedures include taking a special type of X-ray, known as a venogram, and/or the use of a hand-held Doppler ultrasound to diagnose possible complications. Occasionally, an angiography of the legs may be used to rule out other disorders.

Duplex Ultrasound Imaging

In certain cases, the physician may refer the patient for a duplex ultrasound scan, which transmits the Doppler ultrasound findings to a computer. This type of ultrasound enables the radiologist to view an “action shot” of the blood vessels in the patient’s leg, and evaluate the direction of blood flow.

A duplex examination may be conducted to rule out other disorders of the legs. The major advantage of the duplex ultrasound is that it can pinpoint the exact location of the “leaking” valves.