Jason B Fashion, MD
It is certain that varicose veins can be a cosmetic problem. But it can also cause significant discomfort and affect quality of life.
We’ve all heard of varicose veins but their causes aren’t always well understood. Varicose veins generally occur as a result of abnormal blood flow caused by defective valves. The veins in the body bring blood from the tissues to the heart and lungs for oxygen. However, in diseased veins, blood can actually flow the wrong way. This is especially true in the legs, where the returning blood must resist gravity.
The result can be enlarged, painful and unsightly-looking veins. The most common symptoms are throbbing pain and itching around the varicose veins. In addition, some patients may experience:
Wounds that usually form at the ankle and are slow to heal
Blood clots that form in varicose veins, which lead to a painful inflammatory reaction (these clots are rarely life-threatening and differ from those in deep veins that can travel to the heart and lungs)
Women are more likely to get varicose veins than men. This is especially true for women who have had multiple children. Varicose veins can develop and worsen as we age.
Genetics can play a role, too. If you have close family members with varicose veins, you are more likely to develop them yourself.
What are the most effective varicose veins treatments?
Compression stockings — stockings that compress the leg from the ankle up, helping blood flow from the leg — can be very effective in helping to manage symptoms related to varicose veins. However, many patients find wearing socks uncomfortable.
There are a variety of minimally invasive outpatient treatments to help treat varicose veins. In the unlikely event of an adverse reaction to any of the medications used during the procedures, being in the hospital ensures patients have quick access to any emergency medical care they may need.
Here are some treatment options:
Thermal ablation (laser or radiofrequency)
Vein removal (phlebectomy)
Injecting materials to scar the small veins to hide them (sclerotherapy).
These treatment options require incisions of less than a quarter inch. Patients are usually able to go home 30 minutes after their procedure and can resume most of their routine activities within 24 hours. However, patients should refrain from heavy exercise for two weeks after most procedures. Patients can generally expect some discomfort for one to two weeks afterward. This is usually effectively managed with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Home remedies and prevention
Many websites promote a variety of home remedies for varicose veins, but there isn’t a lot of research to support most of these claims. While most home remedies are unlikely to be harmful, it is always best to discuss them with your doctor before trying them.
While there is no way to prevent varicose veins from forming, being overweight has been suggested as a risk factor for developing varicose veins. Maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can help control your weight and may help prevent it.
Jason B. Fashion is a vascular and interventional radiologist in medical imaging in Rhode Island. He specializes in the treatment of varicose veins and chronic venous problems. Newport Hospital provides this monthly column for the Newport Daily News.