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The Annoying Cables: varicose veins (varices)
Author: Silvan S. Prayogo, BSc. Biochem & Mol. Bio, MSc. Biotechnology
Last updated: 15 September 2008.

Varicose Veins On Calves. Picture is taken from www.vascularweb.orgHave you ever noticed dark bluish or purplish lines on your calves that appear like a network of electric cables? These apparent blue/purple lines are swollen (enlarged) and distorted veins that usually develop on legs, particularly on the calves. These veins are called varicose veins (see picture on the right).

Veins are blood vessels that carry deoxygenated blood from all over your body towards your heart. A normal vein would have toned and elastic vein walls that help blood flows into your heart. Furthermore, veins have one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing backwards.

Varicose veins: dilated veins. Figure taken from US National Library of Medicine And The National Institute of Health Website.

 

So what triggers varicose veins? Your veins dilate when vein walls lose elasticity. As a result, valves in veins cannot prevent blood from flowing backwards, away from your heart. These dysfunctional valves cause blood to pool in the veins and leads to veins enlargement. Hence, the noticeable varicose veins (see figure on the left).

You may not experience any symptoms other than the obvious twisted and bulging veins. However, symptoms of varicose veins (varices) may include pains in your leg, mild swelling of ankles, skin ulcers near ankle, minor injury in the varicose area may bleed more than normal and take longer to heal. In some rare cases, varicose veins may rupture, causing a large amount of bleeding.

Women are more likely to develop varicose veins. Mayo clinic's website explains that hormonal changes during pregnancy, pre-menstruation, or menopause may be the culprit because female hormones tend to relax vein walls. Hormone replacement therapy and/or birth control pills are suspected to increase the risk of developing varicose veins.

Other common causes of varices are aging (wear and tear of veins), genetics (heredity), obesity (heavy body mass puts too much pressure on your veins), blood condition (e.g. diabetes), and standing for long periods of time (blood does not flow well when you are in the same position for unusually long period of time).

Concern of varicose veins is mainly about cosmetic issue, especially for women. Men usually are not bothered as much because their varicose veins are usually hidden by hair around legs. Treatment for varicose vein could be as simple as avoid standing or sitting too long, elevate your legs when resting or sleeping, avoid sitting with your legs crossed, manage your weight (diet and exercise), and/or wearing compression stockings.

 

Other solutions may involve invasive surgery to remove or seal shut the enlarged veins. The removal of varicose veins do not affect blood circulation because veins deeper in your legs take care larger volume of blood.

 

Currently, a popular method for varicose veins removal on skin is sclerotherapy where a medical doctor injects small- and medium-sized varicose veins with a chemical solution (sclerosant). Sclerosant causes the varicose veins to scar and close the veins. Varicose veins usually fade away in a few weeks. Sclerotherapy may need to be performed several times for an optimum result. However, sclerotherapy does not need anesthesia and can be done in your doctor's office for your convenience.


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References:

  1. Mayo clinic website: "Varicose Veins". http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/varicose-veins/DS00256/DSECTION=2.
    Last updated: 16 January 2007. Last visited: 20 August 2007.

  2. NHS Direct webiste: "Varicose Veins". http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/articles/article.aspx?articleId=387
    Last updated: 17 July 2007. Last visited: 20 August 2007.

  3. Pictures:

 


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