Blood is carried away from the heart by arteries and is returned to the heart by veins (which have one-way valves). There are many networks of veins in the legs which return blood to the heart. The deep veins in the legs carry 90% of the blood to the heart. These veins do not become varicose because the muscle layers, which surround them, protect the walls of these veins.
The surface or superficial veins carry 10% of the blood returning to the heart. If the valves in these veins do not function well, blood doesn't flow efficiently and the veins become enlarged because they are congested with blood. These enlarged veins are commonly called spider veins or varicose veins, depending on their size.
Spider veins are small red, blue or purple veins on the surface of the skin. Varicose veins are larger, distended veins that are located somewhat deeper than spider veins. Varicose veins are no longer able to function properly and other normal veins have taken over for them. Because varicose veins are a hindrance to the circulation, treatment of varicose veins aims at improving the circulation.
Vein disorders are not always visible; diagnostic techniques are important tools in determining the cause and severity of the problem. In addition to a physical examination, a non-invasive ultrasound is always used.
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