Varicose veins occur when veins aren’t functioning properly because the one-way valves in them that prevent blood from flowing backward start to malfunction, due to a condition called chronic venous insufficiency, or CVI. When these valves fail, blood begins to collect in the veins rather than continuing "upwards" toward your heart. This is what causes varicose veins to enlarge, and to take on the bluish-purple colour of deoxygenated blood. Varicose veins affect the legs most often because the veins there are the farthest from your heart, and gravity makes it harder for the blood to flow upward. So vein failures due to CVI tend to manifest there first.
Most of the blood flow from the legs is handled by deep veins, located under layers of muscle and fat. Their size tends to prevent CVI from affecting them negatively, but that is not true of the smaller superficial (meaning close to the skin surface) veins. CVI can more easily damage them, and the result can be varicose veins. Damage to these veins in your legs can produce the following symptoms:
- An achy or heavy feeling in your legs.
- Burning, throbbing, or muscle cramping,
- Worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long time.
- Itching around one or more of your veins.
- Chronic swelling in your lower legs. We'll discuss this in more depth below.
How does swelling in the legs affect your overall health?
If you have varicose veins and experience swollen legs and ankles often, you know how bothersome this can be. The swelling can make it harder to walk or to stand for long periods of time, and it's often painful as well. If you're like many people, you tell yourself that this swelling is just a "sign of aging" and not related to your varicose veins at all, right?
Wrong. Chronic swelling in your legs and ankles is a common symptom of vein disease. A disease that can impact your health and hold you back in life. If your veins are damaged from CVI and not doing their job properly, a crucial part of your body's circulatory system is failing.
Chronic leg swelling, left undiagnosed and untreated, can affect your life in many ways. When swelling and the discomfort and pain that accompanies it occurs in your legs and ankles, you start to become less mobile, and get less exercise. Naturally, this can keep you from achieving your goals in life, but inactivity also has a profound effect on your health. It has been cited as a major cause of conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
What can you do about swollen legs and ankles?
The first thing you should do if you suffer from swollen legs and ankles is find out what the cause is. And this is as simple as scheduling a venous health screening at The Vein Institute. We will perform a medical examination using state-of-the-art venous duplex ultrasound, and can tell you in a few minutes whether the swelling is caused by your varicose veins or not. If it is, our experts can tell you what the different treatment options are, and help you to select the ones best suited to you.