What Are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are twisted and damaged blood vessels that generally develop in the legs, ankles, and feet. They can appear anywhere on the body and are not always visible. Sometimes, they occur in the genital and pelvic areas. These veins can swell and stretch until they protrude from the skin. People can develop varicose veins at any age, but the condition is most commonly seen in adults over the age of 40. Also, women are more susceptible to the condition than men.
Are Varicose Veins Dangerous?
In most cases, varicose veins are the result of a condition called Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI). While many do not experience symptoms, some people experience extreme discomfort, pain, and embarrassment. Over time, the condition can progress in severity, causing swelling in the legs and ankles, dramatic changes in skin appearance, and ulcers or sores in the legs and ankles that do not heal properly. There are also circumstances where their presence indicates underlying health complications that require immediate attention.
What Causes Varicose Veins?
The circulatory system is a closed fluid system. The heart pumps blood throughout the body via the arteries, veins, and blood vessels (circulatory system). To keep the blood in the body from circulating backwards (due to gravity) and maintain proper blood pressure, the valves in the veins only open in one direction. When these valves malfunction, become weak, or sustain damage, pressure builds up inside the veins, making it harder for them to transport blood efficiently.
Stagnant blood pools inside the compromised structures, causing them to leak into the superficial layers of the skin. The veins may also collapse. Varicose veins should not be overlooked, as they can indicate important changes in blood pressure and vascular health. The veins can also become damaged from trauma, prolonged sitting and standing, excess weight, pregnancy, and the use of certain prescription medications.
Varicose Veins vs. Spider Veins
Varicose veins are larger than spider veins and most appear in the lower extremities. Spider veins are much smaller and typically occur in the facial area and legs (localized). Both venous conditions have a bluish, reddish, or purplish appearance and cause slight bruising and discoloration to the skin surrounding them. Spider veins are thinner and smaller and have web-like orientation that may sprawl outward. Varicosities and spider veins can reoccur.
Symptoms of Varicose Veins
The symptoms of varicose veins are not always obvious, especially in people with darker skin tones. The most common symptoms of varicose veins include:
- Aching legs, especially when standing or walking for prolonged
- Feelings of heaviness and tiredness
- Itchy legs
- Leg cramps, especially at nights
- Burning sensation
- Swelling of the legs and/or ankles (edema)
- Changes in the skin color – usually reddish or brownish areas – in the ankles
- Thickening of the skin in the affected areas
- Sores or ulcers on the legs and ankles
The symptoms of damaged blood vessels can mimic the signs of other medical conditions. Severely compromised veins can cause long-term and chronic health problems. Untreated varicosities in the pelvic and genital areas can lead to pelvic congestion in women. Medical attention is necessary to prevent additional complications.
How Are Varicose Veins Diagnosed
Diagnosing varicose veins involves an in-depth evaluation of the patient’s medical history, diagnostic tests, and a physical examination of the lower extremities, such as the legs, ankles, feet, or afflicted area. Diagnostic testing includes a duplex ultrasound. The procedure uses high-frequency sound waves to measure the blood flow and pressure inside the veins/circulatory system while checking their structure.
Varicose Veins Prevention
Varicose veins are not entirely preventable. Common risk factors include a family history of vascular conditions and blood clots, age, standing, pregnancy, etc. Effective ways to improve circulation and lower blood pressure to minimize the risk of vein damage are:
Avoid wearing extremely tight clothing
Garments that are too tight add too much pressure to the veins and can compromise blood flow and vein structure and health.
Exercise regularly and avoid sitting and standing still for extended periods of time. Stretch and bend the legs periodically to maintain proper circulation in the legs and feet.
Maintain a healthy weight
Too much weight and an unhealthy BMI can increase pressure in the veins and stress on the lower extremities.
Use support garments
Wear compression socks, hose, and stockings. Maternity support belts are useful during pregnancy and afterwards to help decrease pressure in the veins and blood vessels in the lower extremities.
Avoid soaking in hot tubs and baths
Prolonged submersion in heated water can cause varicosities to dilate further and decrease proper blood flow.
Smoking decreases circulatory system function and damages the structure of the blood vessels.
Varicose Veins Treatment
Minor cases of varicose veins are often cosmetic deficiencies and do not require treatment. However, more severe cases that cause pain and discomfort require treatment. There are circumstances where varicose veins can cause serious health issues. Treatment options are dependent on the patient’s medical profile and doctor’s recommendations.
Rest and elevation: Treatment consists of resting and elevating the affected body area several times daily.
Compression support: Wear medical-grade compression stockings. The stockings press snugly against the skin to gently squeeze the veins to improve circulation and keep blood from settling.
Radiofrequency ablation therapy: Under ultrasound guidance, a thin catheter is inserted into the diseased vein via a tiny incision in the skin and guided through the vein to the area to be sealed. Radiofrequency energy is then transmitted to a heating element in the catheter and applied to a specific area of the vein until it is sealed.
Ultrasound-guided foam sclerotherapy: Under ultrasound guidance, a special substance is injected into the damaged veins to seal them off causing them to shrink.
Sclerotherapy treatment: The procedure is minimally-invasive and highly effective at eliminating varicose veins and spider veins. Treatment is administered with a saline solution injection to the target veins. The solution stops the vessels from transporting blood. Cutoff from their blood supply, the varicose veins shrink until reabsorbed by the body.
Treatment Risks for Varicose Veins
The risks associated with varicose vein treatment are minor. Some discoloration, mild bruising, and swelling are normal side effects of treatment that subside during recovery. Proper post-operative care and the use of compression hose and stockings can minimize the risk of serious complications.
Medical treatment is an effective way to get rid of unsightly and painful varicose veins. To learn more about varicose veins treatment options, contact us for a consultation.