Often appearing as twisted or swollen blood vessels that bulge from the skin’s surface, varicose veins occur when valves in the veins of the lower legs no longer function properly. This causes blood to flow back downwards, resulting in enlarged veins, says DR SRIRAM NARAYANAN, senior consultant vascular and endovascular surgeon at The Harley Street Heart and Vascular Centre at Gleneagles Hospital. Contributing factors may include pregnancy, obesity, standing or staying sedentary for long periods of time and a family history of varicose veins.
Varicose veins and vein disease can cause a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life, says Dr Narayanan. And, we’re talking more than self-confidence and feelings about body image. Common symptoms include leg cramps at the end of the day and restless legs affecting sleep at night.
“These innocuous-looking veins are often a sign of underlying disease that, left untreated, could lead to a far more complicated condition and the need for a more complex procedure years down the line.”
What’s more, varicose veins tend to worsen over time. If left untreated, varicose veins can lead to leg ulcers, decreased mobility, aching and swelling in the legs, and permanent changes in skin pigmentation. Sometimes, external injury to these bulging veins can also cause major bleeding that requires emergency medical care.
Varicose veins can also put you at higher risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – a life-threatening condition where clots develop in the diseased veins, then travel to the heart and lungs, obstructing essential blood flow.
Interestingly, Dr Narayanan says that the ongoing COVID pandemic has seen a surge in the number of cases of thrombosis and thrombosis-related deaths, as the virus infects the cells that form the inner lining of these veins and causes a significant increase in the risk of clotting.
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