Varicose Veins: What Are They?
Varicosity, more commonly known as varicose veins or varicosis, happens then the veins have too much blood in them. This causes the veins to bulge and look red or a blue/purple color. The veins are often painful and they cause the area to look swollen, causing an unsightly view.
Women are the most affected by this common medical problem. At least 50% of Americans who are 50-years-old or over suffer from them, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Most of the time, the veins are on the legs, closer to the feet.
Why Do Varicose Veins Appear?
They happen when the veins stop working as they should. All veins are limited to valves that work one-way so the blood cannot flow the wrong way. Sometimes these valves stop working and the blood starts to pool inside it. This is the body’s defense mechanism to prevent the heart being overrun with blood. The legs are the most common area affected due to gravity and being so far away from the heart.
Some of the possible medical reasons for the valves to stop working include:
- Chronic conditions concerning the heart valves
- Too much standing
- Pressure on the abdomen
- Being overweight or obese, which adds more pressure to the legs
Varicose Veins Symptoms
The main symptom people notice is the veins that look large and an odd shape. This is usually on the legs but they can appear anywhere. Many people will also find that their legs ache and feel heavy or they may have some swelling and pain.
There is also the possibility of the color changing and ulcers forming around the ankles.
Diagnosing the Varicose Veins
To be able to diagnose varicose veins, a doctor will need to examine the veins and the area they appear, usually while standing and sitting. He will also want to know about any other symptoms you have and if there is pain.
There are times that ultrasounds are needed to make sure the blood flow is not affected. This uses sound waves at a high frequency and is completely safe.
Few doctors may order an angiogram to be able to assess the quality of the veins. This uses a dye that is injected into the area that the veins appear and then x-rays are taken. The dye will show up on the x-rays so your doctor will be able to see the flow of the blood and the vein quality.
These tests can also help to rule out other disorders, including blockages or clotting of the blood, which can cause similar symptoms.
Varicose Veins Prevention and Treatment
Doctors remain conservative when it comes to the treatment of varicose veins. They want to avoid the aggressive options and the lifestyle changes are considered more beneficial.
These changes can help to prevent the varicose veins appearing:
- Don’t stand for long periods of time
- Don’t stay out in the sun for too long
- Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you need to
- Exercise to help improve your strength
- Avoid crossing your legs a lot
These steps can also help to sooth your symptoms and avoid future varicose veins appearing if you already have them.
There are special types of compression that can be used, including stockings and pantyhose. They are great for adding pressure on the legs to make the blood flow better. Your doctor will usually advise this and the level that you need. You can buy them from medical stores or drugstores.
If you have tried changing your lifestyle and still find no change to the veins or your pain gets worse, your doctor may suggest invasive surgery.
This is known as vein stripping and takes up to six weeks to fully recover from it. You will need anesthesia and the surgeon will remove the bad veins by making a small incision. It will only be performed when the varicose veins are extremely painful. This is not as common anymore, according to the National Institutes of Health, as there are other, effective, less-invasive options.
Two other options to remove varicose veins are radiofrequency and lasers. They will seal the blood flow once the veins are removed but can cause some swelling and bruising afterwards. The side effects do disappear after a short period of time. Before opting for either of these methods, it is important to talk to your doctor. This will help to understand all the risks and the benefits of the methods.
The Future for Varicose Vein Patients
Even when you change your lifestyle, you will usually find that the varicose veins get worse. The changes are a way to manage and control them and the pain. However, they do not lead to any other medical problems in the future.
There are times that the veins can lead to sores or ulcers. Others lead to chronic inflammation and blood clots. Other veins can rupture. If you suffer from any then you need to seek medical attention immediately to talk about your options.