Leg swelling (edema) is a common sign of varicose veins.
The normal flow of blood in leg veins is against the force of gravity; from the foot to the thigh and then up towards the heart. When veins are stretched and enlarged (become varicose), they are too weak to overcome the force of gravity causing the blood to flow backwards and pool in the legs. As the pooling continues throughout the day, the pressure inside the vein walls continues to increase. Eventually, some blood and other fluids can leak out of the vein into the surrounding tissue.
The pooling of blood, increased pressure and subsequent “leakage” causes swelling in the ankles and feet as gravity pulls the fluid down. As leakage continues, swelling can also be noted in the lower calf region and extend to the knee or even the thighs.
Swelling is more noticeable at the end of the day, especially if you have spent much of it sitting or standing still. When you elevate your legs, for example when you are sleeping, gravity is no longer a force working against the flow of the blood in your leg veins hence swelling is reduced. However, when you sit or stand, the swelling recurs. Other factors that can contribute to increased swelling include lifting or straining, pregnancy, heat (such as hot baths or sauna) and hormonal changes (that further relax and stretch the weak veins).
During initial stages, graduated compression stockings may be enough to diminish the tendency of the veins to stretch and control edema. Over time, patients may notice increasing leg fatigue, swelling, thinning of skin and discoloration of the overlying skin. Complications such as painful blood clots in the vein, bleeding from veins close to the skin surface, and nonhealing leg sores may develop. Many patients may also notice unsightly spider and varicose veins (Corona Phlebectatica).
Because of the potential serious and long-term complications of varicose veins, proper treatment is important, and the best results are obtained before complications have already developed. A Vein Specialist can use a Duplex Ultrasound to check “leaky” varicose veins and treatment options.