The following information on vein disease has been excerpted and reprinted from the patient brochure, Varicose Veins: More Than Just a Cosmetic Issue with the express permission of the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology.
Varicose Veins: More than Just a Cosmetic Issue
Varicose veins are a very common problem, generally appearing as twisting, bulging rope-like cords on the legs, anywhere from groin to ankle. While many people have heard of varicose veins, very few truly understand their underlying cause, and the potential they have for developing into a serious medical issue.
Facts about varicose veins
Varicose veins affect an estimated 40 percent of women and 25 percent of men. Factors leading to varicose veins include heredity, gender, pregnancy, age and other factors. Some factors may speed up the development of this disease and make the veins worse, including prolonged standing, obesity, hormone levels and physical trauma.
What are the symptoms? Will they get worse?
- Pain (an aching or cramping feeling)
- Burning or tingling sensations
- Tender areas around the veins
If you experience symptoms and delay treatment, your symptoms may progress onward to more serious complications
- Inflammation (phlebitis)
- Blood clots (e.g., DVT)
- Ankle sores or skin ulcers
If you are experiencing any of the above, consult your physician, as treatment may be required.
How varicose veins occur
Arteries carry blood from your heart out to your extremities, delivering oxygen deep into the tissue. Veins then return the de-oxygenated blood (now blue) back to your heart to be re-circulated. To return this blood to the heart, your leg veins must work against gravity. Small, one-way valves in the veins open to allow blood to flow upward, toward the heart, and then close to prevent it from flowing backward.
Varicose veins occur when the valves in superficial leg veins malfunction. When this occurs, the valve may be unable to close, allowing blood that should be moving towards the heart to flow backward (called venous reflux). Blood collects in your lower veins causing them to enlarge and become varicose.
Can varicose veins be prevented?
The underlying conditions described above usually make ‘curing’ varicose veins impossible, however certain measures may help relieve discomfort from existing varicose veins and prevent others from arising:
- Exercise regularly (walking is ideal)
- Avoid standing for long periods of time
- Avoid sitting for long periods
- Control weight
Since the above measures do not treat the underlying cause of the disease, varicose veins will usually enlarge and worsen over time. Legs and feet may begin to swell and sensations of pain, heaviness, burning or tenderness may occur. If and when this happens, consult your physician immediately.
Treatment alternatives for varicose veins
Your physician will usually try methods that don’t involve surgery first to relieve your symptoms. These may include preventive techniques or the use of compression stockings. If your varicose veins do not respond to this conservative therapy, more active treatment may be required.
See a list of available Treatment Options.
Varicose veins can lead to DVT
If you do not have your varicose veins treated, you may develop a deep venous thrombosis, or DVT. A DVT is a blood clot, or thrombus, which typically forms in the calf veins of the leg, but can also develop in the deep veins of the thigh. A deep venous thrombosis is much more serious than a superficial venous thrombosis. Superficial clots (near the surface of your skin) are easier to detect; however, deep vein clots are surrounded by muscle and harder to detect. In addition, these deep clots are more likely to break free (embolize) and travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism), which can be fatal. DVT’s form because of slow or sluggish blood flow through a deep vein, blood that clots too quickly, or irritation or inflammation of the inner lining of the vein. Several situations will place individuals at a higher risk for developing DVT, such as extended periods of bed rest, long car rides and air travel. DVTs can be usually be diagnosed by an ultrasound exam. When a DVT develops, patients are treated with blood thinners (anticoagulants) which decrease your blood’s ability to clot, prevent new clots from forming and stop existing clots from enlarging.