What are Varicose Veins?
(Venous Insufficiency (Reflux) / Spider Veins)
Varicose veins are enlarged veins that can be blue, red, or flesh colored and they develop when the valves of the veins become damaged. They are often raised above the skin on legs and look like twisted, bulging cords. They can also be associated with pain, aches, heaviness, restless legs, or burning and itching of the skin.
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Veins have one way valves to channel blood back to the heart. Varicose veins develop when the valves of the veins become damaged. This causes blood to pool in the veins, enlarging them and often making the veins just beneath the skin visible.
Varicose veins are more common in women who are of childbearing age and older. Other factors that increase your chance of getting varicose veins include:
- Family members with varicose veins
- Hormonal changes, as with puberty, pregnancy, or menopause
- Pressure on the veins of the pelvis, as with pregnancy
- Job that requires you to sit or stand for long periods of time without much movement
- Enlarged, twisted, and swollen veins that are visible through the skin
- Achy, tired, heavy feeling in the area of the varicose veins or generally in the legs, especially after standing
- Leg cramps
- Burning or throbbing pain in the legs
- Swollen legs
In severe cases, varicose veins may cause skin changes. These changes occur under the area of the varicose veins and include:
- Sores that are difficult to heal
Diagnosis & Treatment
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options may include one or more of the following:
- Lifestyle changes
- Conservative treatment is tried first to relieve symptoms. Steps may include:
- Avoid standing for long periods of time
- Rest with your legs elevated
- Flex legs occasionally when standing or sitting for long periods
- Wear compression stockings
The following non-invasive procedures are offered at St. Elizabeth's Interventional Peripheral Vascular Lab for the treatment of varicose veins/chronic venous insufficiency depending on a patient’s diagnosis:
- Endovenous Laser Therapy. A minimally invasive treatment that involves the insertion of a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into a diseased vein and uses laser energy heat to seal it shut. Blood that would normally return toward the heart through these veins will then travel through other veins instead. Over time the treated vein shrinks and is absorbed by the body. Compared with surgical options like vein stripping, endovenous laser therapy results in less pain and quicker average recovery time.
- Sclerotherapy. Spider veins, which are are small varicose veins are often treated with sclerotherapy. During the procedure salt water (saline) or a chemical solution is injected into the varicose vein. The vein will harden and then disappear.
- Phlebectomy. This procedure treats surface varicose veins. Very small cuts are made near the damaged vein and then it is removed. Because the incisions are so small, they don’t require stitches, there is very little pain and a shorter recovery period.
Varicose veins can't be completely prevented, especially if they run in your family. The following recommendations may help:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Try to avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time.
- Try to avoid crossing your legs for long periods of time while sitting
- Keep your legs elevated when resting
- Consider wearing support hose