There are three types of blood vessels in the body: arteries, which carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body; capillaries, wherein the oxygen and nutrient-rich blood is exchanged for used blood from the body tissues; and veins, which complete the circle by carrying the used blood back to the heart.
While the heart creates the pressure needed to send blood through the arteries, one-way valves are in place inside the veins to promote the heart-ward flow of blood. If these valves malfunction, veins can become engorged with blood; they can twist and swell, and they will be visible at the surface of the skin, particularly in the legs and feet. This painful condition, called varicose veins, is extremely common, especially in women. Leg swelling, itching, burning, aching, and the appearance of small branching "spider" veins often accompany this vascular condition.
Heredity is the primary risk factor for developing varicose and spider veins. However, pregnancy, extended periods of standing, obesity and aging can also contribute. Veins that are painful or unattractive can be treated with measures ranging from compression stockings, light source/laser treatment, and surgical removal. A doctor or healthcare professional can discuss treatment options.