Millions of Americans suffer from varicose veins. Varicose veins are unsightly, painful, and can disrupt your body’s ability to circulate blood effectively. If you have recently been diagnosed with varicose veins, you have many questions about what they are and how they are treated.
Here are a few answers to frequently asked questions you may have about varicose veins.
What Are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are easily visible through the skin and are either flat or raised and bulging. Spider veins are a type of varicose veins and get their name for their web-like appearance. Varicose veins are flesh-colored, purple, blue, or red and predominantly found on the back legs or calves, although they can occur anywhere on the body.
Varicose veins occur when valves that push blood through the veins to the heart are damaged or malfunction. Blood that does not travel to the heart pools and causes discoloration or the veins to bulge. Several risk factors are associated with varicose veins, including:
- Age. Natural valve degeneration occurs as a person gets older. The weakened valves cannot push the blood toward the heart.
- Pregnancy. Blood volume increases and blood circulation to the legs and pelvis decreases during pregnancy. Changes in volume and circulation support the developing baby.
- Obesity. Excess weight places pressure on veins, causing them to work harder to circulate blood.
- Sitting or standing for long periods. Remaining in the same position for several hours restricts blood flow.
- Family history. Certain genetic diseases and conditions affect vein functionality.
Changes in a woman’s hormone levels, which occur after menopause or when a woman takes birth control, place women at a higher risk of developing varicose veins.
What Are the Symptoms of Varicose Veins?
Patients with varicose veins often experience no symptoms, aside from the discoloration and bulging veins. Others will suffer a variety of symptoms, including:
- Itching and burning
- Muscle cramps near the affected veins
Prolonged periods of sitting or standing will sometimes worsen varicose vein pain.
What Are the Complications Associated With Varicose Veins?
Decreased blood flow can cause several potentially serious complications, including:
- Bleeding. Affected veins are thin and damaged, so if the patient bumps or injures their leg, excessive bleeding can occur.
- Blood clots. Superficial thrombophlebitis, or clots that form just beneath the skin, is characterized by pain and swelling.
- Ulcers. Decreased blood flow causes blood to pool and a painful sore to form.
- Varicose eczema. Red, flaky, irritated skin can crust over and blisters form at the affected area.
- Chronic venous insufficiency. Decreased blood flow disrupts the skin and blood’s ability to exchange waste, oxygen, and nutrients.
Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT, is a serious condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in the leg. DVT is very painful, and if not treated immediately, a blood clot can travel to the lungs, a life-threatening condition known as pulmonary embolism.
How Will My Doctor Diagnose Varicose Veins?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask about any pain, swelling, or other symptoms you’re experiencing. They will order an ultrasound test if they suspect you have a blood clot or you are suffering from any other complications.
How Are Varicose Veins Treated?
Superficial varicose veins are unsightly but typically do not require any medical treatment. Your doctor will recommend you do the following to alleviate symptoms:
- Lose weight
- Elevate your legs
- Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time
- Wear compression socks to help veins push blood from the legs to the heart
- Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, including aspirin or ibuprofen
At-home treatments both alleviate the pain and swelling of varicose veins and prevent the condition from getting worse. Therapies to treat or eliminate varicose veins include:
- Sclerotherapy. During this procedure, a chemical or foam is injected into the vein, collapsing its walls. No anesthesia is required for this outpatient procedure.
- Laser surgery. This noninvasive procedure uses lasers to send powerful beams of light into the affected veins. This is typically an outpatient procedure.
- Ablation. Your doctor inserts a small catheter into the affected veins and uses either lasers or a radiofrequency to superheat and collapse the veins.
- Vein stripping. Affected veins are tied off at the point before they meet a larger vein. The doctor removes the veins piece by piece through a series of small incisions.
Advanced cases, or those that were not cured by the above-mentioned procedures, often require endoscopic vein surgery. During this procedure, the doctor inserts a small camera into the leg and uses a scalpel to remove the affected vein.
Varicose veins are a common problem that can lead to several dangerous conditions, including deep vein thrombosis. If you have any more questions or suspect you are suffering from varicose veins, contact the professionals at The Surgical Clinic. We can diagnose your condition and determine the best treatment for you.
Meet Our Vascular Surgeons
Allen P. Lee Jr. MD, FACS, RPVI
Downtown Clinic, The Vein Centre – Mt. Juliet
Adam A. Richter, MD, RPVI
James W. Richardson Jr., MD, FACS
Bryan T. Fisher Sr., MD
Downtown Clinic, The Surgical Clinic – Ashland City
Roger A. Banou, MD, FACS
The Vein Centre – Aspen Grove, Belle Meade, Mt. Juliet