What are varicose veins?
The circulatory system is made up of the heart, veins, and arteries. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to nourish your tissues, while veins have one-way valves which channel oxygen-depleted blood back toward the heart. If these valves are damaged, the blood pools in the leg veins and leads to feelings of fatigue, heaviness, aching, burning, itching, cramping, restlessness, swelling and even eczema and leg ulcers.
What causes varicose veins?
Heredity causes most varicose veins. If one of your parents has varicose veins, your risk of having them is about 70%. Other predisposing factors include obesity, leg injury, multiple pregnancies and standing occupations, such as nurses, teachers, and barbers.
Are varicose veins a threat to my health or are they just cosmetic?
Varicose veins indicate that the pressure in the veins of the legs is too high (a condition called venous hypertension). Longstanding venous hypertension can result in damage to the deep leg veins and to the overlying skin. Impairment to the deep veins can lead to blood clots and sometimes to sudden death from pulmonary embolism. Blood clots are especially frequent if you are confined on a long plane or car trip. Injury to the skin will result in stasis dermatitis, pigment changes, thickened skin and possibly, leg ulcers with scarring. In addition, venous hypertension can cause pain, fatigue and swelling of the legs. The presence of increasing numbers of spider veins may also suggest venous hypertension.
What are the options for varicose vein treatment?
A new procedure called endovenous laser ablation, or EVLA, has been available to treat varicose veins for about seven years. EVLA involves a nonsurgical laser procedure in which the laser fiber is inserted into the damaged vein and it is switched on, permanently sealing the vein shut. The blood that normally flowed through that vein is redirected into normal veins which carry it back to the heart. EVLA is performed under local anesthesia while you are awake and is very comfortable.
Most people return to work the next day. EVLA is a safe and effective procedure that is replacing the older technique of surgical vein stripping. Another way to treat varicose veins is called foam sclerotherapy. For this treatment, no anesthesia is required and a small butterfly needle is used to deliver an FDA-approved sclerosant chemical to the veins. They immediately shrink and are cleared by the body's metabolism over several weeks to months. This procedure is relatively painless and is very safe. Vein stripping surgery is not performed very often nowadays since these newer procedures are so safe and effective.
Do these treatments cure varicose veins? After all diseased veins are treated, most people have a remission of symptoms, leg swelling improves and the skin begins to heal, including leg ulcers. Many patients do not have problems again for years. Due to many factors including heredity, however, some people are predisposed to future problems. Since there is no way to prevent other veins from becoming damaged, varicose veins may be an ongoing challenge for some patients.