What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are dark, enlarged, twisting veins that occur most commonly in the legs. They range in severity from merely cosmetic (spider veins) to severe with a number of associated, uncomfortable symptoms and potential complications.
What Causes Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins begin as the result of damaged valves within the veins themselves. The primary function of veins is to return blood from the body to the heart. Muscle contractions in the legs help accomplish this goal by pushing the blood flow upward, against gravity. At the same time valves inside the veins open to allow blood to flow in the correct direction and close to prevent it from coming back. However, when valves become weak or damaged. they may not be able to stop the backward flow of blood and subsequent pooling in the veins. Over time, this leads to the hallmark darkening, swelling, and twisting of varicose veins.
What are the Risk Factors Associated with Varicose Veins?
There are a number of risk factors which can lead to the development of varicose veins. While not all of these are controllable, some can be directly influenced by the patient. In many cases, varicose veins are the result of a combination of the following:
- Age - The risk of developing varicose veins increases with age, as time, wear and tear begin to weaken valves.
- Sex - Women are more likely than men to develop varicose veins. This is due in large part to female hormones which can cause vein walls to relax.
- Pregnancy - In addition to hormonal changes, pregnancy also produces increased blood volume, which can enlarge veins.
- Obesity - Carrying excess weight can increase pressure with the legs and damages veins.
- Lifestyle - The more we move, the more efficient the body becomes and transporting blood. Living a largely sedentary lifestyle does just the opposite and makes it more difficult for veins to do their job properly.
What are the Symptoms of Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins may produce no bothersome symptoms at all. However, in cases which do become symptomatic, the following are among the most commonly observed side effects:Discoloration - Veins may appear blue or purplish in color. The skin surrounding varicose veins may also become discolored.
Protrusion - As veins become enlarged, they may protrude from skin, with a cord or rope-like appearance.
Pain - Legs may ache, cramp, burn, throb or feel heavy. These symptoms may be worse after prolonged periods of sitting.
Itching - Itching may occur in areas around one or more of the affected veins.
How can Varicose Veins be Prevented?
While certain risk factors for varicose veins are beyond a patient's control, there are steps that can be taken to minimize veins and their impact on the body. These include:
- Physical Activity - In order to alleviate pressure in the veins and encourage blood flow, it's important to take regular breaks from sitting by getting up to move and by elevating the legs for 15 minute intervals at least three times per day. Exercise programs such as walking and yoga are also useful to incorporate.
- Compression Stockings - Damaged veins have difficulty maintaining their proper position. This can lead to the pooling of blood, pain and swelling often associated with varicose veins. Compression stockings can help combat this by aiding in vein placement.
- Diet & Lifestyle - Eating a healthy diet of proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fiber can help control weight. Likewise, patients should limit sodium and focus on drinking healthy amounts of water each day.
How are Varicose Veins Treated?
While most cases of varicose veins can be successfully controlled through dietary and lifestyle changes, some may require further medical treatment either to reduce symptoms or improve appearance. There are several available treatments to improve veins. Among the most common are:
- Radiofrequency Ablation - In this minimally-invasive procedure, radio frequency energy applies heat to the vein wall through a thin catheter. This closes off the vein.
- Endovenous Laser Therapy - This is similar to RF ablation in that a thin catheter is inserted into a vein, but instead uses a laser fiber to heat the vein wall.
- Sclerotherapy - Used for both cosmetic and medical purposes, sclerotherapy is an effective treatment option for both spider and varicose veins. This therapy injects medication into the veins which causes them to shrink. Best results are typically achieved over a series of treatments.
- Phlebectomy - This procedure involves removal of varicose veins through small punctures or incisions in the skin. Even large veins are able to be removed through this method.
- Varithena - This minimally-invasive procedure involves a polidocanol endovenous microfoam (PEM) which is injected into the target vein under ultrasound guidance to cause vessel irritation, spasm and closure.
- Veingogh - CIS offers this cosmetic procedure in which radiofrequency energy is applied to the vein using a thin needle for vein damage and closure. A series of treatments may be required.
- Venaseal - This is a minimally-invasive procedure where adhesive is injected into the vein through a thin catheter closing off the vein.
What if Varicose Veins are Left Untreated?
Venous disease can progressively get worse over time due to the pressure created by the backflow of blood in the legs. This may lead to additional spider and varicose veins, and in some cases can lead to swelling and venous ulcers at the lower calf and ankle. Even if only spider veins are present, you should consult a vein specialist to determine the problem so that it can be treated.
Varicose Vein Specialists
CIS physicians are among the most renowned venous disease specialists in the nation. This includes not only varicose veins, but a number of other conditions which can affect the health and strength of veins as well. To address your own vein concerns, contact us to schedule a consultation with a specialist near you.