More Than Skin Deep: The Causes and Symptoms of Varicose Veins

Patient with Varicose Veins

Are you embarrassed to wear shorts because of varicose veins?

You're not alone. One out of five American adults has varicose veins. It's not just a cosmetic issue, either--they can lead to a variety of symptoms leaving you uncomfortable.

But you don't have to be uncomfortable or embarrassed. Keep reading for a closer look at what causes varicose veins, and what the Surgical Specialists of Carolina can do to help you.

What are Varicose Veins?

First, let's cover the basics.

Varicose veins are enlarged, bulging veins that appear twisted under the skin, usually in the legs. They can be blue, red, or flesh-colored.

There are also spider veins, which are a lot like varicose veins but smaller.

The good news is that varicose and spider veins are both very treatable, though the can cause you some discomfort in the meantime.


The symptoms of these veins vary between sufferers. Some people don't get any pain related to varicose or spider veins, while others do experience pain.

The primary symptoms of varicose veins include:

  • Unusually visible veins that are dark purple or blue in color
  • Veins that look twisted or bulging under your skin

Note that varicose veins are not to be confused with a high level of vascularization in the legs. Usually, these veins will look like a dark cord twisted under your skin or a system of dark roots.

Not everyone experiences pain due to varicose or spider veins, but if you do, common features include:

  • Muscle cramping, burning, throbbing, or swelling in your legs
  • A deep ache or heavy feeling in your legs
  • Bleeding from these veins
  • Worsened pain after sitting or standing for extended periods of time
  • A particularly painful part of the vein with associated redness
  • Hardening of the vein
  • Inflammation of the skin
  • Skin ulcers near your ankles

Note that if you do experience hardening of the vein, skin inflammation, or ulcers, these are all signs of a serious vascular disease that requires immediate medical attention.

What Causes Varicose Veins?

With all of this in mind, let's talk about what causes varicose veins.

Given how common varicose veins are, the causes of these veins are a lot more commonplace than you might think.

As such, varicose veins aren't often caused by major diseases, though there are a few diseases that can result in varicose or spider veins. In general, it's a good idea to consult your doctor to make sure there aren't any underlying issues you should be concerned about.

Poor Circulation

The human body is a pretty cool thing. It's also remarkably complex, which means that when things go wrong, you can see all kinds of wild side effects.

Your arteries are surrounded by a thick layer of muscle and elastic tissue to circulate your blood from your lungs (where it gets oxygenated) to the rest of your body. On the other side, your veins rely on a surrounding network of muscle tissue to push blood back to your heart.

This is important because as blood circulates through your veins, there are valves that open to allow blood through and close to prevent backflow.

When you have varicose veins, these valves don't work properly. This means that blood pools in your veins and makes it difficult for those veins to push blood back to your heart.

In other words, you have poor circulation. This is bad news for more than cosmetic reasons--if your blood can't make it back to your heart as it should, the blood can't get fresh oxygen.


Unfortunately, age is a major factor in the appearance of varicose and spider veins.

As you age, your veins slowly lose elasticity, causing them to stretch. This creates weakness in your valves over time, resulting in--you guessed it--poor circulation and blood pooling in your veins, creating spider veins as pressure builds in your veins.

Fun fact: varicose veins are blue because of this diminished elasticity and subsequent poor circulation. The veins are blue because of the buildup of deoxygenated blood (blood that should be going back to the lungs to receive fresh oxygen but isn't in this case).


Out of all the less-than-fun side effects that come with pregnancy, varicose veins are like a cherry on top.

When you're pregnant, the volume of blood in your body increases to carry oxygen to the developing baby and accommodate for the extra work you have to do to move around.

Here's the problem: that extra blood doesn't help you from the pelvis down since the flow of blood from your legs to your pelvis actually decreases while pregnant.

This is a biologically intentional design since the circulatory rerouting supports the growing fetus. Unfortunately, it's bad news for your own circulation.

Varicose veins may become more prominent later in pregnancy as your uterus exerts greater pressure on the veins in your legs as they attempt to pump blood back to your lungs. The good news is that varicose veins that come about this way usually diminish with treatment in the 12 months after your pregnancy.

Some Diseases

In general, the causes of varicose veins can be summed up as weakened valves and diminished circulation, which can arise as you age and frequently happens in pregnancy.

That said, there are some diseases that can result in varicose or spider veins. These include:

  • Congenital vein abnormalities
  • Blood clots that prevent circulation
  • Phlebitis (inflammation of the veins)

It's important to talk to your doctor to make sure none of these issues are at work in your veins--if you treat the veins without addressing the underlying issue, the veins may come back, and worse than before.

Treating Varicose Veins

Now that you know all about what causes varicose veins, let's talk about how you can treat them.

The Surgical Specialists of Carolina offer three vein treatment procedures: Endovenous Ablation, Ambulatory Microphlebectomy, and Sclerotherapy.

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And if you have any questions, don't hesitate to get in touch.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.