Varicose veins are a very common problem, generally appearing as twisting, bulging rope-like cords on the legs, anywhere from groin to ankle. While many people have heard of varicose veins, very few truly understand their underlying cause, and the potential they have for developing into a serious medical issue.
Facts About Varicose Veins
Varicose veins affect an estimated 40% of women and 25% of men. Factors leading to varicose veins include heredity, gender, pregnancy, age and other factors. Some factors may speed up the development of this disease and make the veins worse, including prolonged standing, obesity, hormone levels, and physical trauma.
What are the symptoms? Will they get worse?
In addition to the visual appearance, many patients may experience one or more of the following leg symptoms:
• Pain (an aching or cramping feeling)
• Burning or tingling sensations
• Tender areas around the veins
If you experience symptoms and delay treatment, your symptoms may progress onward to more serious complications including:
• Inflammation (phlebitis)
• Blood clots (e.g., DVT)
• Ankle sores or skin ulcers
If you are experiencing any of the above, consult your physician, as treatment may be required.
How Varicose Veins Occur
Arteries carry blood from your heart out to your extremities, delivering oxygen deep into the tissue. Veins then return the ‘de-oxygenated’ blood (now blue) back to your heart to be re-circulated. To return this blood to the heart, your leg veins must work against gravity. Small, one-way valves in the veins open to allow blood to flow upward, towards the heart, and then close to prevent it from flowing backwards.
Varicose veins occur when the valves in superficial leg veins malfunction. When this occurs, the valve may be unable to close, allowing blood that should be moving towards the heart to flow backward (called venous reflux). Blood collects in your lower veins causing them to enlarge and become varicose.
Can varicose veins be prevented?
The underlying conditions described above usually make ‘curing’ varicose veins impossible, however certain measures may help relieve discomfort from existing varicose veins and prevent others from arising:
• Exercise regularly (walking is ideal)
• Avoid standing for long periods of time
• Avoid sitting for long periods
• Control weight
Since the above measures do not treat the underlying cause of the disease, varicose veins will usually enlarge and worsen over time. Legs and feet may begin to swell and sensations of pain, heaviness, burning or tenderness may occur. If and when this happens, consult your physician immediately.
The information above on vein disease has been excerpted and reprinted from the patient brochure, Varicose Veins: More Than Just a Cosmetic Issue (Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology)
Treatment Alternatives for Varicose Veins
Dr. white and his staff will usually try methods that don’t involve procedures or surgery first to relieve your symptoms. These may include preventive techniques or the use of compression stockings. If your varicose veins do not respond to this conservative therapy, more active treatments may be required.
For more information regarding varicose veins, Dr. White provides expert advice and answers real patient questions on RealSelf.