Varicose veins are a very common issue that comes with age and predominately appear in women. What most people might not know is that they can pose so very real health issues.
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are blood vessels that become twisted and enlarged and can be seen by the naked eye. They can also become quite painful and itchy if not treated properly. They are blue or red in color and may sometimes appear in the pattern mimicking a spider web. Some smaller veins have the nickname spider veins due to the webbed pattern. They usually appear on the legs but can also appear in other parts of the body, including the face. Both varicose veins and spider veins are types of venous disease.
What causes varicose veins?
Varicose veins result from increased blood pressure in superficial veins caused by weakened vein walls. As the veins enlarge, the valves responsible for maintaining proper blood flow malfunction, leading to pooling of blood and the characteristic swelling and twisting of the veins. Factors contributing to vein wall weakness include age, excess weight, hormones, tight clothing, prolonged standing, inactivity, smoking and certain medications. Symptoms of varicose veins include bulging or twisted veins, itching, leg swelling, a heavy sensation and skin discoloration.
While they may seem just an unsightly part of aging, varicose veins can also be the sign of a deeper problem such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a serious condition where blood clots in the vein. If a blood clot breaks off, it can travel to other places in the body including the lungs, which can lead to a pulmonary embolism (PE), which needs immediate emergency intervention.
What treatments are available for varicose veins?
There are a number of treatments for varicose veins, and some can be done at home. However, before self-treating this or any other condition, seek advice from your healthcare provider who can guide you to your best option(s).
- Leg elevation - Elevating your feet above the level of your heart several times a day for 15-minutes at a time can be helpful. If you must stand for long periods of time, it may also help to flex your legs periodically to keep blood flow circulating.
- Wear compression stockings - Compression socks or stockings help squeeze the veins and keep blood from pooling in your legs. Your healthcare provider can help you determine the level of compression and type of stocking you need.
- Thermal ablation - This type of treatment by a vein specialist uses lasers or radio frequencies to help destroy bulging or varicose veins by using heat.
- Sclerotherapy - Sclerotherapy is the most common minimally invasive treatment for both varicose veins and spider veins by a vein specialist. A saline or chemical fluid is injected into the vein, causing it to collapse. Other adjacent veins will take over the process of moving your blood properly.
- Phlebectomy - During this more invasive procedure, a vein specialist will make small incisions near affected varicose veins and remove them. You will most likely be required to wear compression stockings for several weeks following this procedure.
If you have varicose veins or any of the symptoms mentioned above, contact your healthcare provider to discuss treatment options or request a referral to a vein specialist.