In the United States, 80 million people have some occurrence of varicose veins.
Varicose veins are those veins that are chronically engorged and filled with backed-up blood. How does this happen? Every vein has a valve to prevent the back flow of blood. If the valve malfunctions or the vein wall is weakened, blood backs up and pools in the vein and causes the bluish-purple bulging appearance associated with varicose veins. Varicose veins can also cause physical symptoms such as throbbing, heaviness in the legs, swelling and leg cramps. If left untreated for long periods, varicose veins can lead to ulcerated areas on the skin's surface.
Spider veins are often associated with varicose veins, and can be an early indication of a vein problem. They appear just under the surface of the skin as a collection of broken capillaries and tiny blood vessels. They are often seen on the face, legs or ankles with a web-like appearance.
There are four minimally invasive treatment options for varicose veins. The general recommendation by the medical experts is to first try those four treatments before advancing to the more invasive surgical options.
These minimally invasive options are done in an outpatient setting like a medical office or ambulatory clinic.
- Sclerotherapy: This is a non-surgical method of treatment in which a chemical is injected into the affected vein, causing it to close.
- Endovenous laser treatment (EVLT): Growing in popularity, this laser treatment is delivered via a thin fiber, which is inserted through the skin into the affected vein. Once the light or laser energy is emitted, the fiber is pulled out of the vein causing it to collapse and seal closed.
- Endovenous radiofrequency ablation (VNUS): Radiofrequency waves, delivered through a catheter threaded into the vein, are used to heat the vein and cause it to collapse.
- Laser and pulsed treatments: Light beams are pulsed into the vein to create heat and seal off the vessel.
If there is an insufficient response from the minimally invasive options to treat spider and varicose veins, there are more invasive options available like vein stripping and ligation or phlebectomy. These procedures require more involved treatment from your vein specialist and a longer recuperation period.
The minimally invasive options have a significantly lower risk of complications than open surgery. Laser treatments and sclerotherapy can result in bruising, swelling and mild discomfort during the recuperative period. Desired results are seen three to six weeks after treatment of small veins and three to four months on large veins.
There is commonly a 50-80 percent success rate two years after treating varicose veins. Many patients require repeat treatment every one to three years, most often for newly developed varicosities.
A consultation with your physician about the treatment options for your individual needs will give you the best results.
Cause of varicose veins
There is a strong heredity factor attached to varicose veins, so if they run in your family, you are more likely to get them. Women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills are more susceptible to developing them because there is a direct correlation between hormones like estrogen and weakened vein walls. Obesity also weakens the vein walls, leading to a greater possibility for developing varicose veins. Advancing age increases the likelihood of developing varicose veins in both sexes.
There is no guarantee that you will never develop varicose veins but here are measures that can be taken to prevent them:
- Maintain an active lifestyle; walking and bicycling are most beneficial
- Avoid sitting for extended periods of time, and get up for periodic breaks
- Elevate legs when possible; best if 6-12 inches above the heart
- Avoid crossing the legs
- Change positions regularly from sitting to standing
- Wear compression stockings, even under pants
- Consume antioxidant-rich foods, a high-fiber and low-salt diet
- Maintain a normal weight
- Take vitamins C and E supplements to help reduce swelling and improve circulation