Did you know most problems with varicose veins can be diagnosed with a simple ultrasound examination and treated effectively with in-office procedures that typically have a speedy recovery?
Chronic Venous Disease
Chronic venous disease (CVD) is often a misdiagnosed medical problem. The clinical appearance of this condition varies from visible bulging varicose veins to swelling, chronic inflammation, and even skin ulceration of more advanced CVD. The disease most commonly occurs in the legs, although it can also occur in the arms and even in the internal organs. This is more than a cosmetic problem as patients often have symptoms of pain and heaviness that gradually worsen over time. CVD is much more prevalent than coronary artery disease, affecting about 20% of the adult population in this country. Often, patients are told there is nothing that can be done about this problem.
Varicose veins are a common condition caused by weak or damaged vein walls and valves. Veins have one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing backward. When these valves fail, blood begins to collect in the veins rather than continuing toward your heart. Varicose veins often affect the legs because these veins are the farthest from your heart, and gravity makes it harder for the blood to flow upward. The result is enlarged and distorted veins. You may also experience pain, swelling, heaviness, and achiness over or around the area. Luckily, there are varicose vein treatments that may help.
Varicose veins occur more often in women than men. You may be at increased risk for varicose veins if you are over 50, sit or stand for long periods, have an inactive lifestyle, are overweight, or have a family history of varicose veins. Pregnancy and childbirth also increase a woman’s risk.
Diagnosing Varicose Veins
In the last decade, there have been tremendous advances in the diagnosis and treatment of vein disease. Most vein problems can be diagnosed with a simple ultrasound examination. Computer-enhanced images and Doppler combined with ultrasound can determine areas of blockage and flow patterns in the veins. These tests allow the physician to pinpoint vein problems and identify unhealthy veins with a high degree of accuracy. Treatment can be as simple as wearing compression stockings, or in more severe cases, eliminating the diseased veins with minimally invasive laser or radio-frequency technologies.
A doctor will examine your legs and ask about your symptoms, family history, and lifestyle. An ultrasound or other imaging test may be used to see how blood is flowing in your veins.
Common signs and symptoms of varicose veins include:
- bulging, bluish veins
- leg or ankle swelling
- aching or tired legs
- a feeling of heaviness in the legs and feet
- numbness or tingling in the legs
- dry or itchy skin
- changes in skin color
- inability to stand for extended periods of time
- leg wounds that are slow or non-healing
More severe cases may result in painful ulcers on the skin, blood clots, or bleeding. In these cases, medical attention is required, and immediate help should be obtained.
Varicose Vein Treatments
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend several treatments that can be used alone or in combination. These include lifestyle changes, compression therapy, and medical procedures.
Adopting the following lifestyle changes can help relieve symptoms or prevent varicose veins from getting worse:
- maintain a healthy weight to help improve blood flow
- if swelling is a problem, follow a low-salt diet to help reduce water retention
- eat foods high in potassium (such as leafy vegetables) to help reduce water retention
- try to avoid prolonged standing or sitting
- stretching can help relieve swelling and soreness in the legs
- elevate your legs so that they are raised at or above your heart
- follow a consistent exercise program such as walking
While there’s no way to completely prevent varicose veins, improving your circulation and muscle tone may reduce your risk of developing varicose veins or getting additional ones.
This varicose vein treatment involves wearing special elastic stockings or compression bandages that apply gentle pressure on the legs to help prevent swelling. Compression therapy improves circulation by applying pressure to the veins so the blood can return to the heart more easily.
Compression socks or sleeves generally must be worn extensively to see the best results. You can find them in knee-high or pantyhose styles at surgical supply stores and some pharmacies. While you don’t need a prescription for most compression levels, it may be helpful to identify the best size and type for you with your doctor or vein specialist.
Sclerotherapy is a non-surgical procedure used to treat spider veins and smaller varicose veins. Spider veins are small, thread-like veins that appear at the surface of the skin.
This out-patient procedure typically takes no more than 30 minutes and involves injecting the veins with a solution that causes the vein to close so that blood is directed through healthier veins. You will be required to wear compression stockings for a couple of weeks following the procedure to maintain pressure. Multiple treatments are usually required.
This varicose vein treatment is similar to sclerotherapy but uses different solutions and injection techniques. It is especially effective in treating spider veins.
Intense light pulse (ILP) destroys tiny spider veins and small varicose veins with heat. The heat causes scar tissue to form, which eventually closes off the vein.
Endovenous Laser Treatment
Endovenous laser (EVLT) is a newer alternative. A small laser fiber is placed inside the vein, which produces heat, causing the vein to collapse. Blood starts to move through other, healthier veins. After treatment, you will need to wear compression stockings for a few days. After you’ve had your treatment, you may experience some tightness or mild bruising, which should go away after a few days.
Surgical Vein Stripping
Whereas the vein treatments described above are non-invasive, surgery is an option for treating larger or more severe cases of varicose veins. During surgery, the varicose vein is removed through small incisions at the groin, knee, and ankle. This procedure requires anesthesia.
Moving Forward with Varicose Veins
As you can see, varicose veins are not just a cosmetic issue. Luckily, there are treatments available to help relieve your symptoms and improve your aesthetics. Consult with your doctor to determine the best varicose vein treatment for you.