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Enlarged Veins Could Warn of Vascular Problem

Enlarged blood vessels in the legs could be more than just a cosmetic concern. Without treatment, problems with blood flow in the veins can cause chronic leg pain and sometimes death. The good news is that problems usually can be detected and treated before they become debilitating or life-threatening.

Enlarged blood vessels, known as varicose veins, appear as bulging or twisted blue veins that are visible through the skin. They most commonly occur in the legs.

The condition occurs when the valves in the veins fail to work properly and allow blood to build up. Because these veins are very small, they cannot withstand extended periods of increased blood volume. The excess blood causes damage to the vein valves and weakens the vessel wall, resulting in unappealing, often uncomfortable, raised spots on the legs.

Your leg veins have to work against gravity to pump oxygen-rich blood through the vein valves and back up to the heart. Problems occur when you stand or sit for extended periods because the blood in your leg veins starts to accumulate and hinder proper blood circulation.

Severe cases can result in:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Non-healing ulcers (open wounds)
  • Skin coloration changes in the legs.

Chronic blood flow problems in the veins can make it difficult to sit or stand for long periods and ultimately compromise a person’s ability to work.

According to the American Venous Forum, more than 24 million Americans have varicose veins and an estimated six million have skin coloration or texture appearances associated with chronic poor blood flow in the veins.

Some vascular surgery teams offer a minimally invasive vascular procedure, known as radiofrequency ablation (RFA), for the treatment of varicose veins. During the RFA procedure, a thin, flexible tube (catheter) with tiny electrodes at its tip is inserted directly into the varicose vein. The surgeon then administers heat to destroy vein tissue, causing the vessel to collapse and seal. The vein, no longer able to carry blood, breaks up and is absorbed back into the body. This minimally invasive procedure replaces vein stripping, requires no sutures and is typically performed with local anesthetic.

This article originally appeared in UC Health Line (1/17/2008), a service of the Academic Health Center Public Relations Department and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2006.

For more information:

Go to the Vascular Surgery health topic.