Exactly What Is a Varicose Vein?
The term varicose vein sounds very serious, however, the condition in itself is not. A varicose vein is simply a vein which is enlarged and possibly twisted. Most people don’t realize that varicose veins are not just a cosmetic issue, there is an actual underlying medical cause.
There are several risk factors that can increase your chances of developing varicose veins in the future. These include:
- Family history
- Sedentary lifestyle
Women tend to develop varicose veins more often than men due to changes in hormones. It is also true that pregnancy and obesity place additional strain on the veins in the legs, which leads to varicose veins. As you age body parts tend to not work as well as they once did. This is true of your veins as well. For this reason, an increase in age directly correlates to an increased risk of developing varicose veins. Individuals who have a family history of varicose veins are at a higher risk of developing them as well.
Signs and Symptoms
The good news is that not everyone who has varicose veins have symptoms. For those that do, let’s take a look at the symptoms associated with varicose veins according to the National Institutes of Health:
- Heaviness and tiredness in the legs
- Painful legs
- Throbbing near the affected area
- Itching near the affected area
- Discoloration of the skin near the affected area
- Cramps at night
- Restless legs
- Venous skin ulcers
Where Can Varicose Veins Develop In the Body?
As mentioned earlier, technically any vein in the body is subject to becoming a varicose vein. However, due to the amount of pressure sustained by the leg, it is the most common place to develop varicose veins. They are most commonly found on the calves, thighs, and near the ankles and feet.
Mechanism Behind Veins
It is first important to understand that veins are responsible for carrying deoxygenated blood back to the heart. In healthy, fully operational veins, valves close to keep the blood from backflowing. Individuals with varicose veins have either a weakening or complete failure of one or more valves allowing the backflow of blood in the vein.
What Causes Varicose Veins?
Your legs undergo quite a bit of stress from the weight of your body, standing, sitting, and the myriad of other activities you participate in day-in and day-out. It’s no wonder your legs are most susceptible.
Varicose veins are caused by weakening of the vein wall, valve, or both. This allows backflow of blood down the vein, which also causes pooling. Pooling in the vein causes the vein to grow in size, which leads to varicose veins.
When Should You Seek Treatment
You should always seek medical treatment if you are concerned for any reason. Never try to self-diagnose. Instead, let your healthcare professional rule out any underlying causes and confirm that you do indeed have varicose veins. Most people choose to see their doctor if they are experiencing pain due to their varicose veins.
For others, it is a cosmetic concern. They do not like the look of varicose veins or they are embarrassed to go out in public wearing clothing which exposes their varicose vein. Whatever the reason may be, the decision to seek treatment is entirely based on personal preference.
How Are Varicose Veins Diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will conduct a full physical exam. It’s important during the exam that you explain any and all symptoms, pain, and discomfort you are having. The affected area will be checked for swelling. In some cases, an ultrasound may be ordered to check for the function of the veins as well as for any existing blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis (blood clot of the deep vein). The procedure is painless and non-invasive.
Treatment For Varicose Veins
There are several treatments and therapies available for varicose veins. Your medical doctor will be able to prescribe the right course of treatment based on your age, condition, expectations, and personal preferences.
Conservative treatment of varicose veins
Elevation of the legs is effective for those who have mild to moderate varicose veins. Patients typically elevate their legs above their heart a few times a day to reduce swelling in the legs. This is a common treatment for those who remain seated a good portion of the day. Compression stockings are another non-invasive treatment. Wearing compression stockings reduces pooling of blood in the legs.
Medical treatment of varicose veins
Thermal ablation is a treatment, as the name implies, that uses heat to destroy the wall of the varicose vein. The two forms of thermal ablation are Laser and Radiofrequency ablation. Laser treatments effectively destroy the lining of the vein wall that leads to scarring down of the vein. These types of thermal ablation have completely taken over the need to vein surgery.
The most common treatment for the branch varicose veins seen at the surface of the skin is called ultrasound guided sclerotherapy. Sclerotherapy
Microphlebectomy may also be used as a secondary procedure to remove the branch varicose veins seen at the surface of the skin.
Prevention of Varicose Veins
A healthy lifestyle can go a long way in preventing varicose veins and relieving symptoms. Diet and exercise are very important. Reducing your sodium intake and increasing your potassium intake can reduce the amount of water your body retains. A diet high in fiber will reduce constipation, thereby reducing the strain on your veins and valves. This either prevents varicose veins or further damage. Adding more foods in your diet that contain flavonoids increase blood circulation which reduces the severity of and prevents varicose veins. In addition to dietary changes, grape seed extract is a popular supplement in the prevention of varicose veins.
If you have a strong family history you may want to consider wearing compression stockings. If you work on your feet a lot or are pregnant, you may want to consult you physician about wearing stockings.
Any type of exercise which keeps your legs moving, such as swimming, walking, hiking, and running will increase circulation and reduce the symptoms of varicose veins. Believe it or not, yoga is a good option for reducing and preventing varicose veins.
Although varicose veins are seen as a nuisance, they are not life-threatening. Most people who experience them do not have any symptoms. For those who do not like the appearance or do experience discomfort and pain, there are several effective treatment options available. Diet and exercise can help prevent and reduce the severity and progression of varicose veins!
Medically reviewed by Dr. Susanne Woloson on 5-01-2020.
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