Almost everyone knows someone diagnosed with varicose veins. For many patients, these abnormal blood vessels are primarily a cosmetic concern. Sometimes, however, they can cause a number of significant complications or medical concerns. Understanding more about these unwanted veins and the health problems associated with them is helpful to patients considering treatment.
Varicose Vein Overview
A varicose vein is often easy to spot. It typically develops in the legs or the feet. These large blue or dark purple vessels sometimes have a bulging or twisted appearance. Many patients concerned about their appearance say these veins resemble cords on their legs.
A vein’s job is transporting blood from the extremities back to the heart, where it picks up oxygen and starts recirculating. Small one-way valves in veins fight gravity to help leg muscles propel blood upward.
When these valves malfunction due to age or injury, blood leaks backward. Pooled blood causes elastic vein walls to stretch. The byproduct is often a varicose vein or a spider vein, which is similar but smaller and usually closer to the skin’s surface.
Vein problems are very common. The Vascular Disease Foundation reports that varicose vessels affect as many as 25 percent of U.S. women and up to 15 percent of men. Among Americans at least 50 years old, almost 40 percent of females plus 20 percent of males have experienced significant leg vein issues. U.S. estimates suggest that between 20 and 25 million individuals have developed varicose vessels.
Beyond cosmetic concerns, varicose vessels could cause a number of health problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. Discomfort might include:
- Aching or a sensation of heaviness in the affected leg
- Pain that gets worse after standing or sitting for an extended period
- Swelling in the lower legs, along with burning, muscle cramping, and throbbing
- Itching around a vein
Some patients also experience a skin hardening or eczema.
Although rare, potential complications requiring medical attention include:
- Skin ulcers, preceded by skin discoloration
- Sudden swelling indicative of a blood clot (thrombophlebitis)
- Bleeding from a burst vein
Treatment for Varicose Veins
Varicose vein treatment options today are usually outpatient procedures that allow an individual to resume a normal schedule as soon as possible. In the early stages of vein disease, a vascular surgeon often recommends management with self-care measures such as wearing compression stockings, increasing physical activity, elevating the legs more often, and shedding any extra pounds.
When conservative measures fail, vein specialists offer a number of same-day therapies performed at a vein clinic or other outpatient facility to eliminate troublesome vessels. The most frequent include:
- Sclerotherapy for veins of small to medium size
- Foam sclerotherapy for larger vessels
- Laser surgery
- Ambulatory Phlebectomy
- Catheter procedures utilizing radiofrequency or laser energy
Although these therapies effectively destroy targeted veins, none of them can prevent the development of new varicose vessels.