What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are enlarged veins that develop due to weak or damaged valves within the veins that fail to prevent the backflow of blood. They appear twisted, bulged, blue, red, or flesh-colored and usually occur in the lower extremities.
What are the Causes of Varicose Veins?
Varicosities are usually seen in the veins near the skin's surface. Long hours of sitting or standing can cause increased pressure on the valves within the veins that may weaken them leading to the pooling of blood in the leg veins. This further raises the pressure causing the veins to stretch resulting in a tortuous, bulging appearance.
Risk factors of varicose veins include:
- Older age
- Being female
- Family history
- Standing or sitting for long periods of time.
- Taking oral contraceptive pills or hormone replacement
What are the Symptoms of Varicose Veins?
Signs and symptoms of varicose veins include:
- Veins that are dark purple or blue
- Veins that appear twisted and bulging
- An achy or heavy feeling in the legs
- Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping, and swelling in the lower legs
- Worsened pain after sitting or standing for a long time
- Itching around one or more of the veins
- Changes in skin color around a vein
Diagnosis of Varicose Veins
Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and based on this a physical examination of the leg will be performed. Your doctor may also recommend the following diagnostic tests:
- Venous Doppler Ultrasound of the Leg: This is a noninvasive diagnostic that evaluates blood flow through the veins using sound waves. Leg ultrasonography can assist in the detection of a blood clot.
- Duplex Ultrasound: This is a combination of duplex ultrasound and traditional ultrasound tests to evaluate blood flow and the anatomy of the leg veins.
- Venogram: Your doctor will inject a special dye into your legs and take X-rays of the area during this exam. The dye appears on X-rays, allowing your doctor to see how your blood is flowing through the veins.
What are the Treatments for Varicose Veins?
Treatments for varicose veins include:
- Compression Stockings: Wearing compression stockings can reduce the symptoms. These stretchy stockings provide support to vein walls and keep them from expanding to some degree. When compression stockings are worn every day, they can be quite effective.
- Sclerotherapy: A salt (saline) or chemical solution is injected into the varicose veins during this procedure. Varicose veins that have been treated should diminish in a few weeks.
- Laser Treatment: The laser treatment sends powerful bursts of light into the vein, causing it to diminish and dissolve over time. No cuts or needles are used.
- Thermal Ablation: Varicose veins can be treated using lasers or radiofrequency energy. A catheter is used to inject a small fiber into a varicose vein. The laser or radiofrequency energy is used to deliver heat that destroys the wall of the varicose vein.
- High Ligation and Vein Stripping: This method entails tying off a vein before it connects to a deep vein and then removing it using small skin incisions. This is an outpatient procedure for most people. The removal of the vein will not stop blood from flowing in the leg since blood circulation will continue through veins deeper in the leg.
- Ambulatory Phlebectomy: Smaller varicose veins are removed by a series of microscopic skin punctures in this treatment. In this outpatient procedure, only the areas of the leg that are being poked are numbed.
Steps to prevent varicose veins include:
- Avoiding high heels and tight hosiery
- Exercising regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Changing your sitting or standing position regularly
- Avoid standing for extended periods of time
- Eating a high-fiber, low-salt diet