Varicose veins are the twisted, bulging veins just beneath the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are swollen, twisted veins that you can see just under the surface of the skin. These veins usually occur in the legs, but they also can form in other parts of the body. Varicose veins are a common condition.
Varicose veins are caused by leaky vein valves, which allow blood to pool within the veins causing them to stretch and become enlarged. Varicose veins can be an isolated finding, but the majority of the time, they are caused by underlying venous reflux disease. Venous reflux disease is also known as venous stasis, venous insufficiency or venous incompetence. Reflux may occur in the deep and/or superficial leg veins.
In our study, led by Dr. Nisha Bunke and published in the Journal of Vascular Ultrasound in 2018, we studied over 1,000 legs with varicose veins. Over 90% of the time, the source of the varicose veins were the great and small saphenous veins. The Great Saphenous Vein (GSV) courses up the middle of the thigh and calf and the small saphenous vein (SSV), which courses along the back of the calf. Normally, there are one-way valves within the leg veins, which help blood flow in one direction: toward the heart. This means blood is traveling against gravity. The calf muscle also helps move blood toward the heart. When vein valves are leaky, blood flows backward (reflux) towards the feet. Blood pools in the lower legs, causing bulging veins at the surface.