Varicose veins are large, raised, swollen veins that tend to develop in the legs. More than 40 million people in the US suffer from varicose veins, including an estimated 41% of women over the age of 50. Visual signs you have varicose veins include:
- Veins are dark blue or purple in color
- Veins appear to be twisted or bulging out
- There are “clusters” of veins visible on parts of the leg
Our arteries are tasked with carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body’s tissues, while veins are supposed to return that blood back to the heart so that it can be recirculated. The veins in the legs have to work against gravity to return the blood to the heart, and when this mechanism is faulty varicose veins can form from pooled blood. When they are “overfilled” this creates the varicose vein appearance.
Varicose veins are painless in most instances. When painful symptoms do occur, you would typically feel a burning, throbbing sensation in the lower legs, muscle cramping and swelling, or an itching feeling around the veins.
What Causes Varicose Veins?
There are a number of factors than can predispose people to developing varicose veins, including:
Gender. The prevalence of varicose veins is higher among women (55%) compared to men (45%). Pregnancy and other hormonal influences like puberty or menopause can increase the risk, as well as use of some birth control medication.
Age. The risk for varicose veins tends to increase with age because veins lose elasticity, which causes them to stretch. Additionally, valves in the veins can become weak, allowing the blood that should be flowing toward the heart to flow backward. This causes pooled deoxygenated blood, which appears to be blue.
Hereditary factors. Nearly half of all people with varicose veins have a family history of the condition. If both of your parents have varicose veins, you are up to 90% more likely than your counterparts to develop them.
Occupation. Having a job that keeps you in the same position for an extended period of time, such as nursing, hair styling, teaching, working in a factory or in a cube, can increase the risk for varicose veins. This is because your blood doesn’t flow as well if you’re in the same position for prolonged periods.
Weight. People who are overweight are twice as likely to develop varicose veins as people who are not overweight, while obese people are three times as likely to develop them.
Related health conditions. Having blood clots or a condition that creates pressure in the abdomen, such as constipation or tumors, can increase the risk for varicose veins.
Although it’s rare, there are certain complications associated with varicose veins, including ulcers, blood clots and bleeding. It’s important to visit your doctor if you believe you may be suffering from any of these complications.
How to Treat Varicose Veins
Not everyone with varicose veins experiences painful symptoms, however some people may still want them treated for cosmetic reasons. Some of the most common methods to treat varicose veins include:
Support stockings. Support stockings are the most conservative approach for treating varicose veins. Simply wearing the properly-fitting support hose when experiencing painful symptoms can help to relieve discomfort. Any surgical supply store should stock them, as well as some pharmacies. They come in below-the-knee, above-the-knee and full pantyhose style.
Lifestyle adjustments. Weight loss, if needed, can help address varicose veins. Proper skin hygiene and increased walking can also help to treat them.
Sclerotherapy. Sclerotherapy uses a highly concentrated saline solution that is directly injected into the vein. The vein generally disappears gradually between 3 and 6 weeks following the injection, and the procedure can be done in an outpatient setting.
Endovenous laser treatment. This procedure involves inserting a small laser fiber through which pulses of laser light are delivered into the vein. The laser light pulses cause the vein to collapse. The procedure is sometimes done under local anesthesia and is usually in an outpatient setting.
Radiofrequency occlusion. A small catheter is inserted into the vein to deliver radiofrequency energy that heats up the vein wall, which causes it to collapse and seal shut. The procedure is sometimes done under local anesthesia and is usually in an outpatient setting.
Lasers and intense pulsed light. These procedures, such as Vasculight and Photoderm, utilize heat energy to selectively damage or destroy varicose veins. There may be some minor discomfort associated with these procedures, although no needles or sclerosing solutions are needed. Side effects can include discoloration, straining or blister formation.
VeinGogh. The state-of-the-art VeinGogh technology uses selective thermocoagulation to treat varicose veins and spider veins. These high-frequency bursts of electrical energy are delivered directly into blood vessels, coagulating the blood and collapsing the vessel wall without affecting the outer layers of the skin. VeinGogh is one of the safest and most effective ways to target spider veins anywhere on the body.
Surgery. Surgery is generally reserved for people with large varicose veins. Techniques include tying off a vein (ligation) or removing a long segment of the vein (stripping). Another surgical procedure, called ambulatory phlebectomy, removes the superficial veins through small, slit-like incisions that do not require stitches. Surgery can be done under local, spinal or general anesthesia, and people usually go home the same day.
What Happens After Treatment for Varicose Veins?
After undergoing any procedure for varicose veins you might experience some discomfort, tenderness or pulling in the area that was addressed. In some cases, bruising may also occur while you heal. Typically, over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen are sufficient for managing this discomfort. Walking on flat surfaces for about 1 to 2 hours each day following the procedure is generally recommended to help prevent blood clots.
As the area heals, you will notice a gradual difference in the appearance of varicose veins. Depending on the number of sessions and type of treatment, it is very likely the look of spider veins can disappear entirely.