More than 40 million people have varicose veins in the US alone- about 25% of women and 15% of men. Symptoms may include:
- Leg pain associated with swelling
- Skin marks or discoloration
- Varicose veins
- Leg pain or fatigue
- Restless legs
What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are the blue or purplish enlarged veins you typically see bulging out of one’s leg. The word “varicose” is derived from the Latin root word “varix,” which is translated in English as “twisted.” Any vein in your body may become varicose, however, its important to note that this condition or varicose veins exists most often in the legs and feet. Varicose veins occur in the legs and lower extremities because standing and walking increases the pressure in the veins in the lower half of your body.
Is it only a cosmetic concern? For many men and women, varicose veins and spider veins (these are the smaller and more common variation of varicose veins) makes them feel less attractive. However, it’s important to note that for others, varicose veins cause aching pain and discomfort. This condition may lead to serious problems if not treated. Moreover, varicose veins may also serve as an indication that the individual is at a higher risk of other disorders of the circulatory system.
As with many other health related issues, self-help measures work well for prevention; compression stockings and changing certain aspects in one’s lifestyle.
A number of people do not experience any discomfort with varicose veins, however, certain people do. For those that do experience discomfort, below are some of the symptoms
- Achy or heavy feeling in one’s legs; burning, throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in the lower legs.
- Itching around one or more of your veins in the legs.
- Skin ulcers near your ankle, which represent a severe form of vascular disease and require immediate attention.
If you have varicose veins, typically prolonged sitting or standing tends to make your legs feel worse. The varicose veins are easy to spot because they are dark purple or blue in color and sometimes appear twisted and bulging. The most common spot they appear is on the inside of the leg or on the backs of calves. But don’t let that fool you, they can form anywhere on your legs, from your groin to your ankle.
Risk Factors that Increase your Chances of Developing Varicose Veins
- Standing for long periods of time. Blood doesn’t flow as well if you’re in the same position for long periods of time because your muscles are not contracting to push the blood back to the heart.
- Obesity. Extra weight puts more pressure on your veins.
- Age. The normal processing of aging causes wear and tear on the valves in your veins which regulate blood flow. The wear and tear may causes the valves to malfunction.
- Sex. Women have a higher chance than men are to develop varicose veins and spider veins. This is attributed to hormonal changes during pregnancy, and also premenstruation or menopause may be a factor. Some researchers have found that female hormones may matter.
- Genetics. Check to see whether your family members have varicose veins, heredity plays a big role.
Screening and diagnosis by a Physician
Prior to making a diagnosis, your doctor will most likely examine your legs while you’re standing and will look for swelling. Also, he or she may ask you if you have any of the varicose vein symptoms listed above. As an ancillary test, your doctor may do an ultrasound test to see if the valves in your veins are working normally or if there’s any evidence of a blood clot. Ultimately, it is smart to see a specialist for varicose veins and spider vein treatment.
Sudden Swelling of the Leg
If you have considerable swelling in the leg (caused by the enlarging of veins deep within the legs) you must see a doctor immediately. Any sudden leg swelling requires urgent medical attention because it may indicate a blood clot — a condition known medically as thrombophlebitis.
Varicose Vein Treatment Options
Treatment today usually doesn’t mean a time consuming, uncomfortable procedure or recovery. Less invasive techniques are available that can be done fairly quickly.
Below are some procedures that your physician may recommend:
This form of treatment is a non-surgical procedure in which a solution is injected into the problem varicose veins or spider veins in order to cause its disappearance.
• Endovenous Laser Treatment (EVLT)
EVLT works by heating the inside of the vein, which causes it to seal shut and disappear. This treatment requires that a very thin laser fiber be inserted into the damaged underlying vein.
• Radiofrequency Occlusion also known as VNUS
This method treats the vein by heating them, causing the vein to contract and then close.
• Laser and Pulsed Light Treatments
This form of vein therapy involves a light beam that is pulsed onto the veins in order to seal them off, causing them to dissolve. Successful light-based treatment requires adequate heating of the veins. Several treatments are usually needed for optimal results.
• Ambulatory Phlebectomy
This procedure involves making tiny punctures or incisions through which the varicose veins are removed. The incisions are so small no stitches are required.
• Transilluminated Powered Phlebectomy (TIPP)
The TIPP treatment is a minimally invasive procedure for removing varicose veins that is performed using the TriVex® System. Transillumination is a unique feature – much like a flashlight placed under the skin – that allows a surgeon to see, accurately target and remove varicose veins, then visually confirm the extraction.
• Vein Ligation
During this type of vein surgery, incisions are made over the problem vein and the vein is tied off. This is done in order to cut off the flow of blood to the varicose vein, which in turn causes it to become less visible.
• Vein Stripping
Vein stripping involves tying off of the upper end of a problem vein and then removing the vein.
There are many other varicose vein treatments out there which include laser surgeries, catheter-assisted procedures and endoscopic vein surgeries. Please consult your physician or other medical care provider regarding what type of treatment is best for you.
Please also remember that current treatments for varicose veins and spider veins are highly successful. However, it’s possible that varicose veins can recur.
There’s no way to completely prevent varicose veins. But improving your circulation and muscle tone can reduce your risk of developing varicose veins or getting additional ones. Traditional, common-sense approaches include:
- Exercise. Get your legs moving. Walking is a great way to encourage blood circulation in your legs. Your doctor can recommend an appropriate activity level for you.
- Watch your weight, and your diet. Shedding excess pounds takes unnecessary pressure off your veins. What you eat makes a difference, too. Follow a low-salt, high-fiber diet to prevent the swelling that may result from water retention and constipation.
- Watch what you wear. Avoid high heels. Low-heeled shoes work calf muscles more, which is better for your veins. Don’t wear tight clothes around your waist, legs or groin. Tight panty-leg girdles, for instance, can restrict circulation.
- Elevate your legs. To improve venous circulation, take several short breaks daily to elevate your legs above the level of your heart. For example, lie down with your legs resting on three or four pillows.
- Avoid long periods of sitting or standing. Make a point of changing your position frequently to encourage blood flow. Try to move around at least every 30 minutes.
- Don’t sit with your legs crossed. This position can aggravate circulation problems.
Some alternative medicine experts have noted that horse chestnut seed extract may be an effective treatment for chronic venous insufficiency; this is a condition associated with varicose veins in which the leg veins have problems returning blood to the heart. The herb may help improve swelling and discomfort caused by varicose veins. Make sure you talk with your doctor before trying horse chestnut seed extract or any other herb or dietary supplement.