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Varicose Veins; Overview.

Your body has two types of blood vessels: arteries carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich red blood from your heart to your muscles and organs, while veins are tasked with returning the "used" bluish blood back to your heart. The deep veins located beneath the muscles carry 90 percent of the blood traveling from your legs back to your chest. The other 10 percent flows through veins located closer to the surface, often visible, and less well supported.

While your leg muscles help your veins pump the blood upward, the real workhorse is an intricate system of one-way valves that prevent the blood from draining back down the leg under the force of gravity. In many people, women in particular, these valves stop working as well as they should, putting additional pressure on the wall of the vein, Varicose veins results from a chronic dilatation of the veins, a condition called "varicosity." When the vein walls are pushed apart, the valves no longer seal properly, making it difficult for the muscles to push the blood upwards. Instead of flowing from one valve to the next, the blood begins to pool in the vein, increasing venous pressure and causing the vein to bulge and twist. The result is varicose veins. Although they can be painful and unsightly, these visible varicose veins are usually harmless. When inflamed or clotted, they become hard and tender to the touch. Increasing pressure may cause itchy skin and aching in the affected limb.

If you suffer from varicose veins, you are not alone. According to the American College of Phlebology, about 80 million Americans have varicose veins or a related disorder, spider veins. Spider veins, also referred to as telangiectasia or broken capillaries, are formed by the dilation of a small group of blood vessels located close to the surface of the skin and are most commonly found on the legs and face. They look like red or purple sunbursts, branched, or web patterns, and only rarely cause pain. Varicose veins differ from spider veins in that they are:

* larger--usually more than a quarter inch in diameter--and often distended

* darker red or purple, or blue

* located deeper than spider veins

* tend to bulge or twist

* may be painful

* can be related to more serious vein disorders

Varicose veins aren't just a cosmetic concern. They can also pose a health risk. Very rarely, they are associated with:

* superficial phlebitis, which is an inflammation of the vein usually associated with:

* thromboses, which are blood clots forming in the enlarged vein

* venous stasis ulcers, which can result when the enlarged vein does not provide adequate drainage of fluid from the skin; the swollen skin receives insufficient oxygen and an ulcer forms

Certain people seem to be more predisposed to varicose veins than others, including:

* women, who are four times more likely than men to develop varicose veins; up to 50 percent of American women may be affected, according to the American College of Phlebology

* people whose family members have varicose veins, because heredity plays a major role

* people over 40 years old;. According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, 41 percent of women aged 40 to 50 years old have varicose veins, increasing to 72 percent of women age 60 to 70 (and 43 percent of men who are 70). Also as women age, varicose veins become more visibly pronounced.

In addition, several factors can lead to varicose veins in people who are predisposed to them, including:

* changes in a woman's hormonal levels, which can be brought on by pregnancy, menopause, and the use of birth control pills, estrogen and progesterone

* obesity

* leg injury

* inactivity

* strain in the abdominal region, from repeated heavy lifting, pregnancy or constipation (a hemorrhoid is actually a varicose vein)

In addition to hormonal changes, pregnancy causes both an increased volume of blood and increased pressure from the abdomen, which in turn cause veins to enlarge. The good news is, varicose veins due to pregnancy often improve within three months after delivery. However, with successive pregnancies, these abnormal veins are more likely to enlarge further.

American College of Phlebology. http://www.phlebology.org. Accessed Aug. 2003.Dartmouth Atlas of Vascular Health Care. http://www.dartmouthatlas.org. 2000. Accessed Aug. 2003."Spider and varicose veins." American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. http://www.asds-net.org. 2002. Accessed Aug. 2003. Varicose Veins and Spider Veins. The National Women's Health Information Center. Published 2000. http://www.4woman.gov. Accessed Aug. 2003.

Editorial Staff of the National Women's Health Resource Center 2002/04/15 2005/05/25 Your body has two types of blood vessels: arteries carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich red blood from your heart to your muscles and organs, while veins are tasked with returning the "used" bluish blood back to your heart. The deep veins located beneath the muscles carry 90 percent of the blood traveling from your legs back to your chest. The other 10 percent flows through veins located closer to the surface, often visible, and less well supported. Arteries,Capillaries,Phlebitis,Thrombosis,Varicose veins,Varicosity,Veins,Vessels
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Title Annotation:causes, treatment and diagnosis
Publication:NWHRC Health Center - Varicose Veins
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 25, 2005
Words:841
Next Article:Varicose Veins; Diagnosis.
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