Anatomy And Physiology

What are Varicose Veins

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What are varicose veins?

Our network of veins serve to drain the capillary beds and body tissue of "used" blood and return it to the heart. This venous flow is assisted in its return to the heart by the rhythmic sucking action of breathing, muscular contraction in the extremities, and valves located in the veins in the legs. Gravity assists this venous blood from the head and neck to return to the heart; however, venous flow from the legs is against the natural force of gravity, an uphill pull, and valves which are in the deep and superficial veins give a required lift to returning blood.

Valves in our veins are situated in such a way that blood flows past them towards the heart. They work to prevent back flow and are situated at irregular intervals along the main veins, but usually occur at sites between the deep and superficial vein systems in the lower legs. The deep and superficial veins in the leg sit near the skin's surface, as well as deep within the skin. The superficial set of veins, referred to as the saphenous system, are between the deep layers of the leg and the skin, and surrounded by subcutaneous fat. The deep set of veins, referred to as the femoral veins, are between the muscular compartments deep within the leg. The two systems are connected in the knee and groin areas. There are important valves located at these junctions. The two systems are also connected by a number of communicating veins with valves. This way flow can travel by many alternate routes. 

Varicose veins appear as swollen and protruding with unsightly bluish cords and can be painful. More women than men have varicose veins.  Infections and injuries which cause an obstruction of blood flow or venous blood to be poorly oxygenated, as well as metabolic waste product, can contribute to the condition.  The reason varicose veins develop in the legs is due to the failure of the valves to function in communicating veins between the deep and superficial venous systems. When the valves don't prevent back flow of the blood, abnormal pressure dilates the superficial venous system, causing stagnation and pooling of the blood.

Varicose veins have a tendency to manifest themselves in those who have one or both parents with the condition. There seems to be an increased incidence of varicose veins during pregnancy. Varicose veins that develop during pregnancy must be watched carefully due to the danger of infection. This is known as phlebitis. Obesity is another contributing factor for the development of varicose veins. 

A leg with only minimal varicose veins may cause a great deal of pain. A leg with severe varicose veins may cause little pain, if any. There is no correlation between the extent of the varicose veins and the symptoms they produce. Usually symptoms are burning and/or itching sensations of the skin. Early symptoms can be heaviness, drawing sensation, and cramping in the calf area of the leg. After long periods of standing or walking, the legs may feel heavy.  If a vein is ulcerated or infected, there is often an intense burning sensation.

There are a number of alternative treatments today for varicose veins. These alternative therapies consist of naturopathic and homeopathy options.

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