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Besides the “purple snake” effect, varicose veins can cramp or throb through the night. So much blood pools to the legs, it may cause the legs to feel heavy and leaden. If clear fluid in the enlarged vessels seeps into cells, it may choke blood flow to the skin, causing an itchy rash or maybe a painful ulcer, Weiss warns.

Generally, varicose veins are more unpleasant and ugly than harmful.

The specific cause of the undesirable “body art” isn’t known, but a genetic tendency toward feeble, vein valves plays a huge part, Weiss says. Hormones also play a part, accounting for the higher incidence in women.

When pregnant, Weiss says the increased blood volume the mom is circulating for herself and her fetus can make veins bulge. Sitting with a complete uterus on the top of the thighs also doesn’t help blood return to the heart (varicose veins that pop up during pregnancy usually deflate in 3 months, although new pregnancies can bring them again, sometimes to remain).

Aging, obesity, and prolonged standing may also cause leg veins.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In the event you had a mother or grandmother treated for varicose veins and believed the remedy sounded worse than the illness, take heart. “We use duplex ultrasound to check at the circulatory system of the leg,” Weiss says. This means taking a sharp, two-dimensional picture rather than a doctor listening to blood flow in the leg using a Doppler device and trying to choose which veins are affected and where.

She says this is because understanding the state of the specific vein affected can help the physician determine which therapy to use.

In the old days, a flexible metal rod was inserted into the vein in the groin level, passed through the vein and removed the other end, where a metallic cap was screwed on. The pole was then pulled back through the leg, stripping out the strand through the groin incision. With the vein gone, the circulatory systems took over and the wormy mass wasn’t longer visible.