Frequently Asked Questions

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins – which afflict 10% to 20% of all adults but serve no useful purpose in the body – are swollen, twisted, blue veins that are close to the surface of the skin.  Because valves in them are damaged, they hold more blood at higher pressure than normal.  That forces fluid into the surrounding tissue, making the affected leg swell and feel heavy.

Unsightly and uncomfortable, varicose leg veins can promote swelling in the ankles and feet and itching of the skin.  They may occur in almost any part of the body, but are most often seen in the back of the calf or on the inside of the leg between the groin and the ankle.  Left untreated, patient symptoms are likely to worsen, with some possibly leading to venous ulceration.

What causes varicose veins?

The normal function of leg veins - both the deep veins in the leg and the superficial veins, which feed them - is to carry blood back to the heart. During walking, for instance, the calf muscle acts as a pump, contracting veins and forcing blood back to the heart.

To prevent blood from flowing in the wrong direction, veins have numerous valves.  If the valves fail (a cause of venous reflux), blood flows back into superficial veins and back down the leg. This results in veins enlarging and becoming varicose.  The process is like blowing air into a balloon without letting the air flow out again- the balloon swells.  

To succeed, treatment must stop this reverse flow at the highest site or sites of valve failure. In the legs, veins close to the surface of the skin drain into larger veins, such as the saphenous vein, which run up to the groin.  Damaged valves in the saphenous vein are often the cause of reversed blood flow back down into the surface veins.

Understanding Venous Reflux Disease

Healthy leg veins contain valves that open and close to assist the return of blood back to the heart.  Venous reflux disease develops when the valves that keep blood flowing out of the legs and back to the heart become damaged or diseased.  As a result, vein valves will not close properly, leading to symptoms of: varicose veins, pain, swollen limbs, leg heaviness and fatigue, skin changes and ulcers.

Who is at risk for varicose veins?

Varicose Veins are caused by venous insufficiency which is a genetic disease that can be worsened by: age, gender, family history, heavy lifting, multiple pregnancies, obesity and/or a standing profession.