What Are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are enlarged veins near the surface of the skin which may be troubling both cosmetically and medically. They occur most frequently in the legs but may exist elsewhere in the body. Varicose veins can affect both men and women. According to the The National Institute of Health, a quarter of patients who suffer from this condition are men. More women seek help for this disorder than men not only because more women suffer from them, but because in our culture women expose their legs more frequently to public view. Regardless of gender, however, varicose veins can be a serious problem requiring medical intervention.
What Are the Main Causes of Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are caused by a backflow of blood in the veins due to venous insufficiency. Venous insufficiency is when the veins are not functioning properly and fail to return blood to the heart efficiently and cause blood to pool. Sometimes, the cause of Venous insufficiency is due to deep vein thrombosis or high blood pressure inside the veins of the leg.
Damaged veins may also be the result of injury, disease or surgery. When damaged valves are unable to keep blood moving in the proper direction, a backflow results. We refer to this condition as venous reflux. Venous reflux can cause discoloration, skin breakdown, bleeding, and even ulceration. Once this happens, treatment may be more difficult. This is why it is important to intervene early in the disease process
Risks Factors For Varicose Veins
Many people are at a greater risk because of their occupations or habits. Individuals who work in professions which require a great deal of sitting or standing, like waiters, drivers, or nurses, or individuals who spend a great deal of time traveling in cars or airplanes, are at high risk. Varicose veins occur more commonly in women and individuals who smoke.
Risk factors for developing varicose veins may vary and some may relate to gender. These risk factors include:
- Oral contraceptives
- Congenital weakness in veins
- Family history of the vascular disease
- Sedentary lifestyle
Symptoms Of Varicose Veins
Patients with varicose veins do not always experience pain from this condition, although some may develop aching, throbbing, cramping and other symptoms that may indicate a need for medical attention. The symptoms of varicose veins may include:
- Large swollen veins
- Swelling, usually of the feet, ankle or leg
- Pain, aching, throbbing or cramping in the legs
- Heaviness in the legs
- Itching in the lower leg or ankle
- Discoloration of skin
Although varicose veins most frequently appear in the legs, they can also occur in other areas, such as the pelvis, vagina, uterus, esophagus or anus.
To view more varicose vein before and after cases, view our gallery here.
Varicose Veins Treatments
There are many treatment options available for the treatment of varicose veins, depending on the severity of the individual case. These treatment possibilities may include:
When varicose veins are mild, the patient may successfully treat them at home. Home treatment may include getting plenty of exercise, avoiding long periods of sitting or standing and elevating the legs when at rest.
The compression of these garments may provide symptomatic relief and slow disease progression. Compression stockings alone, however, will not remove varicose veins.
In this procedure, a liquid called a sclerosant is injected into the affected vein to cause it to close and stop carrying blood. Sclerotherapy does not require an anesthetic and the doctor can perform it in about one hour with little or no discomfort.
Surgical Stripping Of Veins
Surgical stripping has been the traditional varicose vein treatment. It is usually performed under general or spinal anesthesia in the hospital. Incisions are made along the course of the vein and the vein is stripped out in pieces. The surgical incisions are closed by stitches. Recovery time after surgical stripping may be 2 to 3 weeks.
Endovenous Laser Treatment (EVLT)
During EVLT, a laser fiber is threaded along the course of the diseased vein and the fiber is pulled out slowly, resulting in the closure of the vein. This is an outpatient procedure with topical or local anesthesia and takes about 45 minutes with minimal downtime. Immediately after the procedure, the patient can drive home, return to work, and resume a normal routine.
Endovenous Radiofrequency Ablation
During radiofrequency ablation, a small incision is made through which a catheter is inserted into the targeted vein. Once precisely placed, the catheter delivers radiofrequency energy to the wall of the vein, causing the vein to collapse and seal so that blood can no longer travel through it. After the radiofrequency procedure, patients may experience mild bruising
and swelling in the treated area, but are usually able to return to your regular activities shortly after treatment.
Varicose Veins On The Legs & Feet
Varicose veins do not form only on the legs; they can develop in many other areas, with the feet being a common location. Pressure placed on the veins of the legs and feet during standing and walking can eventually damage veins, causing their valves to weaken. Weak valves can result in a backflow of blood, called venous reflux, that interferes with normal circulation. As blood pools, the walls of the veins are further stressed. Eventually, this causes them to distend and raise the surface of the skin. Varicose veins of the feet, like other varicose veins, are not simply a cosmetic problem. If left untreated, they can lead to potentially serious medical issues, including extensive bleeding and phlebitis.
What Happens To My Circulation When The Veins Are Removed Or Closed?
Once the vein collapses and becomes nonfunctional, the blood flow will be naturally redirected to healthy veins and circulation will continue uninterrupted.
What Complications Are Associated with Varicose Veins?
In patients of either gender, the biggest risk of having varicose veins is that the patient may develop a clot, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), that may travel to another part of the body. We refer to this as an embolism and it is a life-threatening condition. If the clot travels to the lungs, it is called a pulmonary embolism. If it travels to the brain, it may result in a stroke, and if it travels to the heart it may precipitate a heart attack.
When a clot occurs in a milder way, we call this phlebitis or superficial thrombophlebitis. While less serious than DVT, we must treat phlebitis medically to assure that the condition doesn’t worsen. Usually, remedies include resting with the affected leg elevated, taking anticoagulants or clot-dissolving medications. In the most serious cases, surgical removal of the vein may be necessary.
How Can I Prevent Varicose Veins?
While some individuals may develop varicose veins regardless of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, there are steps that a patient can take to lower their risk. These preventative measures include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, taking frequent breaks from sitting or standing, and elevating the legs while at rest.
Is The Treatment Of Varicose Veins Covered By Insurance?
If a patient has symptomatic vein disease, most insurance companies and Medicare will cover the consultation and diagnostic ultrasound examination. If the examination reveals dysfunction of major veins, all major insurance carriers and Medicare will cover further treatments by endovenous laser.