Veins are the blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart from organs, muscles, and other tissue throughout the body. They have one-way valves to prevent blood from moving backward away from the heart.
Swollen and twisted veins are known as varicose veins, and they can form in both men and women. An estimated 35 percent of U.S. adults have varicose veins, which are often harmless, though they can lead to complications affecting circulation. Treatment, which may be done for cosmetic or health reasons, usually involves the removal or closing off of affected veins.
The primary symptoms of varicose veins in men are bulging veins, usually seen in the lower legs. Apart from their appearance, varicose veins often present no other symptoms.
However, varicose veins can sometimes accompany the following symptoms:
- aching legs
- heaviness in the lower legs and feet
- nighttime cramps
- swelling in the lower legs
Varicose veins form when there is too much pressure in the veins. This can occur when the vein’s valves or other parts of the veins become weak or injured. As a result, blood can start to pool and cause the veins to swell.
Certain factors can raise your risk of developing varicose veins. These include:
- advancing age
- family history of varicose veins
- sedentary lifestyle
- standing for prolonged periods without walking
Varicose veins often look like they’re bulging. Because of the blood pooled inside them, they take on a darker appearance than the surrounding skin.
Varicose veins can affect the appearance of the legs, which is often a reason people seek treatment. But large or plentiful varicose veins may also pose a health risk. Here are some of the more common health concerns associated with varicose veins.
Deep vein thrombosis
Varicose veins often affect veins closer to the surface. When these veins become hard and warm to the touch, the condition is called phlebitis. A clot (also called a thrombus) that forms in a surface vein with phlebitis usually poses no serious health risk and will resolve on its own.
These blood clots in varicose veins are different than deep vein thrombosis (DVT), when the clot forms in a deeper vein in the leg. DVT can break loose and travel to the lungs, where it becomes a pulmonary embolism, blocking blood flow in the lungs and restricting the body’s ability to oxygenate blood.
A leg ulcer caused by a varicose vein is also known as a venous ulcer. These ulcers are open sores that don’t heal easily, because healthy blood flow in the legs is compromised by the swollen veins. Leg ulcers often form near the ankle.
A rare condition in which an artery in the pelvis compresses a vein, May-Thurner syndrome can result in dangerous blood clot formation. Varicose veins, venous ulcers, and a swelling in the affected leg are among the key symptoms of May-Thurner syndrome.
There are three primary treatment options for varicose veins. All of them are generally safe and effective, and have short recovery times.
This procedure involves the use of lasers or radiofrequency energy to close off the affected vein. The procedure is done on an outpatient basis, with a local or general anesthesia. Some bruising and temporary skin discoloration are common after the procedure. A
Another common procedure to treat varicose veins and spider veins is called sclerotherapy. It’s also an outpatient procedure with a relatively fast recovery time. With sclerotherapy, your doctor uses a very fine needle to inject a solution into the varicose vein, causing it to shrink and become closed off. Research, including a
For larger or deeper varicose veins, the best option may be surgery to remove the affected portion of the blood vessel. One common surgical method — called vein ligation and excision — involves tying off the source of the varicose vein and removing portions of the swollen varicose vein.
This can be combined with a procedure called vein stripping, which has now been mostly replaced by the ablation procedure. Stab phlebectomy is a procedure where the affected veins are removed through small incisions.
If you notice varicose veins, but you’re experiencing no symptoms, there is no rush to seek a medical evaluation. You can discuss the issue with your primary care physician.
However, if you start to notice pain, numbness, or other discomfort in the legs with varicose veins, contact your doctor or a vascular specialist. Similarly, if you notice sores or lesions on your skin that don’t heal or fade away on their own, or you see skin discoloration, speak with a doctor.
There may not be any serious health risks, but it’s worth having a doctor evaluate your varicose veins and determine whether imaging or other procedures are appropriate.
While it’s not always possible to prevent varicose veins, keeping your weight in a healthy range may lower your risk. Make an effort to be more physically active, which will boost circulation and increase blood flow through your veins.
Try to avoid standing or sitting in one place for too long. Move about as much as possible. And if you’re sitting, elevate your legs. Having your feet higher than your heart can also help boost blood flow through your veins. A doctor may also recommend wearing compression stockings to prevent varicose veins or to keep existing varicose veins from worsening.
Men are just as likely as women to develop varicose veins, especially men who are overweight or sedentary. Most varicose veins in men pose no serious health threat, though they can cause symptoms, which should prompt a conversation with a doctor.
Many people want their varicose veins treated for cosmetic reasons as much as health concerns. There are a few different options to close off or remove varicose veins, all of which are usually effective and safe with a low risk of side effects.