Varicose veins are a common problem, especially as people age. Veins carry blood from all parts of the body to the heart for recirculation. When the flow of blood is impeded, they turn blue or dark purple in colour and can also appear to be twisted and bulge under the skin. They are usually seen in the legs but may also appear on the face in the form of smaller “spider” veins.
When the veins carry blood up from your legs, they work against gravity. The contraction of muscles in the legs work like pumps to push the blood upwards. Valves in the veins prevent the blood from flowing backwards. If the muscles or valves weaken with age and the flow is affected, varicose veins appear. Genetics play a major role in the occurrence of varicose veins. If the conditions run in the family, there is a greater likelihood of your developing them. Women are more likely to develop the condition than men. Hormonal changes such as pregnancy, menopause, using birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can contribute to the development of the condition. Standing up for extended periods, obesity, injury to the leg and wearing extremely tight clothing below the waist may also cause the condition to appear.
The first step is usually self-care in the form of exercise, losing weight, avoiding tight clothes and not spending long periods of time standing or sitting. Besides this, compression stocking may be used. These fit firmly over the legs and apply a gentle pressure to help the muscles and veins move the blood more efficiently. It is important that the fit of these stockings is correct. Too tight and they could compound the problem and if too loose, they will be ineffective.
If self-care does not help, more specific treatment will be required. This is normally done on an outpatient basis. The options include:
- Sclerotherapy: An injection is administered to close the affected small vein.
- Foam sclerotherapy: Foam is injected to close off larger veins.
- High legation and vein stripping: A vein is closed off and removed through a small incision.
- Ambulatory phlebectomy: Smaller veins are removed through a series of tiny punctures in the skin.
- Laser Surgery: Lasers are used to close off small veins.
- Catheter assisted laser energy: A tiny catheter (tube) is inserted into larger veins. The tip is heated causing the vein to collapse and seal itself. The tube is then removed.
- Endoscopic vein surgery: This is often used when leg ulcers have formed. A tiny camera is inserted in the leg to allow the doctor to locate the affected veins which are then removed through small incisions.
Should You Consult A Doctor?
While varicose veins are not normally a serious health issue, the condition should not be ignored. Over time pain, burning, itching, muscles cramps, skin ulcers and other problems may arise. In some cases, varicose veins could be a symptom of another more serious medical condition. The best course of action is to consult a doctor when the problem is noticed. He or she will be able to guide you on the self-care options and how to do them correctly. If more formal treatment is required, the doctor will be able to decide on the right course of action for your specific condition.