- Very Common Condition
- Treatable Without Surgery
- They Will Get Worse Over Time
Have you noticed those twisted, bulging veins that recently appeared on your legs, and are probably preventing you from wearing shorts, going to the beach or just feeling good about yourself in general?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
What you’re most likely suffering from is called Varicose Veins. These swollen, enlarged, rope-like veins can be seen under the skin and can appear anywhere on your body. However, they mainly affect your legs, feet or thighs.
So, what’s happening?
Varicose veins develop in your legs for various reasons, but in all cases are related to non-functioning vein valves. You need your vein valves healthy because they allow blood to flow from the legs toward the heart against gravity, preventing venous reflux (reverse flow). If the valves are damaged or the vein wall is too weak, the blood pools in the legs, which results in the formation or enlargement of varicose veins.
Is this common?? Absolutely. Estimates say that at least 20 – 25 million Americans have varicose veins, and women are more affected than men (why wouldn’t we be??). This makes problems with veins one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States. In fact, more people lose their jobs as a result of chronic vein disorders than serious artery diseases.
What causes varicose veins to happen?
Whether you are prone to developing varicose veins depends on a variety of factors. The more these combine, the higher the risk will be for you:
- Family history of varicose veins (number 1 reason!)
- Increasing age
- Being female – hormonal changes, as well as taking birth control pills or hormone replacement can increase your risk.
- Multiple pregnancies
- Prolonged standing or sitting
- Prior blood clots in your legs
- Limited physical activity
Will They Get Worse Over Time?
Unfortunately, yes. Varicose veins don’t get better on their own, and will usually get worse over time. In some cases they can even develop into more dangerous conditions like Leg Ulcers.
Surely none of us find this a pretty picture, so don’t wait around. The sooner you start treating varicose veins, the less complicated your condition could be.
How do I treat varicose veins?
Thanks to modern technology, treating these unsightly veins has become easier and more effective. The new procedures don’t require surgery and can be covered by insurance. Skilled specialists will treat the veins in their office with either a laser, a salt-solution called a sclerosant, or a combination thereof. You’ll be walking home that day with relatively little pain or discomfort.
- Laser Therapy – very effective procedure used on smaller varicose veins, performed in outpatient setting, with fast recovery time and positive mid-term results.
- Sclerotherapy – this very effective, minimally invasive procedure involves injecting a salt water or a chemical solution into the vein. The vein should then harden and disappear.
- Endovenous Laser Ablation – very effective, minimally invasive procedure which uses heat to treat the vein through either radiofrequency energy or laser energy. The vein should disappear over time.
There are other procedures still being used, but they are much less preferable because they are more invasive, more complicated, have many more potential side-effects, and a longer recovery time. These include:
- Ambulatory Phlebectomy – this procedure involves removing varicose veins with small hooks through tiny skin incisions. It is performed under general or local anesthesia and it can cause bruising, hemorrhage, hematomas, or a bothering sensation of ‘pins and needles’.
- Vein Stripping – is a surgical procedure during which a damaged vein is removed through small surgical cuts. It takes 1 – 2 hours, and the patient will receive either general or spinal anesthesia. The patient is usually required to spend some time in the hospital following the procedure, and has to avoid physical activity for weeks. As this is a surgical procedure, there are a number of possible complications related to anesthesia or the surgery itself such as various allergic reactions, post-operative bleeding, infection, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and others.
If you want to avoid major complications and side-effects, one of the non-invasive or minimally invasive procedures is recommended. They will get rid of your varicose veins in less time, with minimum risk, and usually little to no pain.
What should I do now?
The best thing to start is to have an ultrasound performed to see the underlying veins and how extensive the problem is. This is a painless, non-invasive, and absolutely risk-free examination. No preparation is necessary, and you will either lie comfortably in a chair or stand in an upright position (to assess the blood flow direction). You really needn’t fear this procedure at all, facials can be more painful than this!
Use our Find a Doctor locator to find a vein specialist –a phlebologist – who performs a physical examination using various technological devices. Just call and schedule a free consultation. These offices are friendly and want to help.
- Get a Free Consultation. Our Find a Doctor locator will help you find one
Could I have varicose veins if they aren’t visible?
Yes! Cases of varicose veins can be invisible to the eye and hidden underneath the skin. Some symptoms that could be a result of vein disease are listed below. Once more severe symptoms occur, they, as with any other chronic conditions, tend to make our lives more difficult. These common symptoms include:
- Ankle and leg swelling
- Fullness and heaviness
All of the above mentioned symptoms are certainly annoying, yet many feel these are bearable and continue to suffer with the condition untreated. Unfortunately, in more severe cases, varicose veins can lead to serious issues such as blood clot formation, discoloration and thickening of the skin, sores around the ankle area, and eczema. All of these symptoms are a potential risk to your health and treatment must be considered.
How do I confirm I have varicose veins?
You will need to find a vein specialist – phlebologist – who will perform a physical examination ultrasound, using various technological devices:
- Duplex ultrasonography – gives an ultrasound image of the vein to determine how the vein valves work and see if there is any blood clot in the vein. This is typically regarded as the most detailed and accurate test.
- Doppler ultrasonography – performed using an ultrasound machine that allows your physician to listen and assess the blood flow.
Other tests, such as a plethysmography, can be performed as well. All of these diagnostic tests are non-invasive and should be completely pain-free.
Without maintaining a healthy lifestyle and seeking potential treatment, varicose veins tend to get worse over time. Although hardly anything can be done about your gender, age or genetics, you can certainly work on slowing down the development of varicose veins and managing the symptoms through regular exercise, proper hydration, healthy diet, low blood pressure, and wearing a compression stocking – these are all aspects you can control yourself on a daily basis. Help your veins work as properly as possible and you will be rewarded with smooth skin and perky, untired legs.
In some cases, they are a cosmetic issue rather than a major health problem, and no specific treatment is required. However, varicose veins can develop into a chronic condition, and can become increasingly painful, or lead to much more serious conditions that require a physician’s attention (see a vein specialist to confirm this either way!). The following are generally considered helpful to a healthier vein lifestyle:
- Keep the blood flowing! Do not sit or stand for long periods of time, and move your legs regularly.
- Elevate your legs above your heart as many times a day as possible, for at least 15 minutes at a time.
- If you are overweight, change your diet and try lose some of the excess weight.
- Exercise regularly! Physical exercise helps the blood flow, and it strengthens the deep muscles necessary for your vein valves to work properly. Walking, swimming, and yoga can be great options.
- Wear compression stockings. They help with the swelling and the feeling of heavy legs.