Up to 60% of all Americans suffer from a vein disorder such as spider veins or varicose veins.

Correct and Incorrect Blood Flow DiagramVaricose veins often cause discomfort and look unattractive. Left untreated, varicose veins usually enlarge and worsen over time. They can cause the legs and feet to swell. Leg muscles may feel fatigued or throb and cramp at night. The skin at or around the spider veins or varicose veins can itch or burn, and can lead to more serious problems.

Varicose veins are visible on the skin surface of the leg as enlarged, ropey, bulging and twisted superficial veins. Varicose veins are formed when the one-way valves inside veins do not work properly for various reasons (see risk factors for vein disease). If the vein valve becomes damaged or does not do its job, blood is allowed to leak backwards, causing increased pressure on the preceding area of the vein. Over time, the vein walls become thickened and enlarged. Varicose veins often produce aching and pain, and are many times present in the condition of chronic venous insufficiency. Once venous valves are damaged, they cannot be repaired, so prevention of varicose veins is key.

Remember, unlike arteries, veins have thin walls. Veins tend to become distended quite easily, and over time under increased pressure their walls become thickened, ropey, and unsightly. In addition, they can occasionally bleed easily because, as part of the superficial vein system, they are near the surface of the skin.

Can varicose veins get worse over time? Yes. Discoloration of the skin in the ankle area (venous stasis discoloration) occurs in some people and painful venous ulcers can develop that are usually very difficult to heal and tend to reoccur even when they do heal. Not everyone with chronic venous insufficiency develops venous ulcers. Superficial thrombophlebitis (a condition in which a vein close to the surface of the skin becomes inflamed and develops clot) may also occur.