Varicose veins are twisted, bulging, blue veins, occuring most often in the legs. The condition is a result of valves which no longer work properly, allowing blood to flow backward, instead of returning to the heart. Women are more likely to have varicose veins than men, and the condition seems to be hereditary. Often, it emerges during pregnancy. Varicose veins can be more than just a cosmetic problem. Left untreated, they can cause ulcers and blood clots. Each year, over 100,000 people die of complications related to varicose veins. Doctors aren't sure why they develop, but sitting in chairs is thought to make them worse. Symptoms include legs that ache, get weak or feel heavy after standing or sitting for extended periods; burning or itchy skin on legs; and swollen legs or ankles. To ease symptoms, lie down with your legs elevated above your heart. Exercise also helps: get up and walk around periodically. There are three basic treatments for varicose veins: wearing elastic stockings; injecting veins with a corrosive chemical; and surgery. Vascular surgeons are developing improved techniques that remove smaller segments of leg veins than in previous operations. Even when there are no painful symptoms, some people may want the veins removed for the sake of appearance. To find out more about varicose veins, consult your health care provider.