Varicose veins affect approximately one-fifth of U.S. adults, including 22 million women and 11 million men, according to an article published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
Varicose veins develop when the valves in the veins weaken. Normal-functioning valves will open and close fully as the body pumps blood to and from the heart. However, when the valves weaken, they don't shut all the way and as a result, blood starts to pool and expand the veins. This is why varicose veins often look like they are bulging out of the skin.
While most varicose veins do not lead to more serious health concerns, they can cause the following symptoms:
- Swelling around the ankles and feet
- Large, unsightly veins just under the skin
- Throbbing or cramping in the legs
- Restless or itchy legs and skin
There are many factors that contribute to the development of varicose veins including pregnancy, family history, age and lifestyle. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your risks and prevent more serious health problems down the road.
1. Adjust your lifestyle
Before your doctor will consider other treatment options, he or she will first take a look at your lifestyle habits. Often, patients can relieve symptoms and reduce their risk of complications simply by making a few changes at home. These lifestyle adjustments can include
- Increasing physical activity and movement to improve blood flow through the legs
- Avoiding sitting or standing for long periods of time
- Keeping legs elevated while sitting or sleeping to relieve pressure on the veins
- Wearing loose clothing around the waist and legs to improve circulation
- Losing weight
With just a few changes to your daily habits, you can make a big difference in the health of your veins and circulation.
2. Try compression socks
Another common treatment for varicose veins is compression socks. Compression socks apply pressure up the leg to promote blood flow and reduce blood pooling in the legs. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute cites three main options for compression stockings at progressively higher pressure points:
- Support pantyhose
- Over-the-counter compression stockings
- Prescription-strength stockings
One study published in the journal Skin Research and Technology found that elastic compression stockings were effective in treating swelling (also known as edema) in the legs and ankles of varicose vein patients at multiple pressure levels. You can start with the lowest grade compression socks to see how they affect you. If you aren't seeing satisfactory results, ask your doctor for recommendations.
Because of the tightened elasticity, you may find it difficult to put on compression stockings. WebMD suggests washing new stockings by hand to make them more flexible and putting them on first thing in the morning when you have the least swelling in your legs.
3. Consider medical intervention
For patients with more severe symptoms, such as skin ulcers or those looking for cosmetic solutions, there are several medical procedures available. These procedures will either close off the vein or remove it.
Laser or radio-frequency ablation These procedures treat larger veins that feed the varicose veins and make them worse. In other words, they deal with the underlying problem or cause. Using a laser or radiofrequency device, the doctor burns the vein from the inside. People's symptoms often resolve after these procedures.
Sclerotherapy and microsclerotherapy
These procedures typically treat smaller varicose veins and spider veins. They use a liquid chemical injection to irritate and scar the vein, causing it to close off.
Vein stripping and ligation and endoscopic vein surgery
Both operations are typically reserved for severe cases. Vein stripping and ligation involve tying off and removing veins through small incisions in the skin.
Similarly, during endoscopic vein surgery, a tiny camera is inserted under the skin and a surgical tool at the end of the camera seals off the vein. Recovery from these procedures is usually a few weeks.
As with most things in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so talk to your doctor today about what you can do now to treat and reduce your risk of varicose veins. For more information about treatment or preventive options for varicose veins, please call Dr. Wobo Bekwelem's office at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center (801-263-2370) and make an appointment.