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Heart Disease Health Center

The Heart and Vascular Disease

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Varicose Veins

Varicose veins are bulging, swollen, purple, ropy veins, seen just under your skin, caused by damaged valves within the veins. They are more common in women than men and often run in families. They can also be caused by pregnancy, being severely overweight, or by standing for long periods of time. The symptoms of varicose veins include:

  • Bulging, swollen, purple, ropy, veins seen under the skin
  • Spider veins -- small red or purple bursts on your knees, calves, or thighs, caused by swollen capillaries (small blood vessels)
  • Aching, stinging, or swelling of the legs at the end of the day

 

Blood Clots in the Veins

Blood clots in the veins are usually caused by:

  • Long bed rest and/or immobility
  • Damage to veins from injury or infection
  • Damage to the valves in the vein, causing pooling near the valve flaps
  • Pregnancy and hormones (such as estrogen or birth control pills)
  • Genetic disorders that increase your risk for clotting
  • Conditions causing slowed blood flow or thicker blood, such as congestive heart failure (CHF), or certain tumors
  • Surgery, particularly some procedures on the lower extremities

There are many types of blood clots that can occur in the veins:

  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot occurring in a deep vein.
  • Pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that breaks loose from a vein and travels to the lungs.
  • Chronic venous insufficiency isn't a blood clot, but a condition that occurs when damaged vein valves or a DVT causes long-term pooling of blood and swelling in the legs. If uncontrolled, fluid will leak into the surrounding tissues in the ankles and feet, and may eventually cause skin breakdown and ulceration.

Blood Clotting Disorders

Blood clotting disorders are conditions that make the blood more likely to form blood clots in the arteries and veins. These conditions may be inherited (congenital, occurring at birth) or acquired during life and include:

  • Elevated levels of factors in the blood which cause blood to clot (fibrinogen, factor 8, prothrombin).
  • Deficiency of natural anticoagulant (blood-thinning) proteins (antithrombin, protein C, protein S).
  • Elevated blood counts.
  • Abnormal fibrinolysis (the breakdown of fibrin).
  • Abnormal changes in the lining of the blood vessels (endothelium).

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