Many people are aware of what varicose veins look like due to their swollen, squiggly, and sometimes discolored appearance, typically on the legs, making self-diagnosis easy. Here are a few other lesser known facts about varicose veins:
Cause: Varicose veins are caused when valves in the veins do not work properly, causing them to become swollen and distorted. Normally, blood travels up the veins to the heart but when the valves malfunction the blood falls down the vein instead. As a result, the veins become enlarged and twisted, the skin can become discolored and thickened, and this can cause significant pain. The condition is most common in the legs due to high pressure in the lower limbs when standing. There is a strong genetic component to most cases of varicose veins. Risk factors for developing varicose veins includes obesity, pregnancy, prolonged standing, menopause, abdominal strain, injury to the legs, and aging. However, it is a myth that varicose veins only occur in the elderly because many young people (including teenagers) develop them as well.
Prevention: Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent varicose veins, the chances of developing them can be reduced through exercise, weight loss, proper diet (high fiber, low salt), keeping the legs elevated (e.g., on a recliner chair), regularly changing sitting or standing positions (e.g., avoid prolonged standing), and (for women), avoiding high heels and tight fitting stockings. These prevention strategies improve blood flow and muscle tone and are also used as a form of treatment once varicose veins have emerged to prevent additional ones from developing. When too many varicose veins have appeared, however, more intensive treatments may be needed.
Treatment: One traditional treatment for varicose veins is known as “venous stripping.” This involves removing all or part of the sapheous vein, which is the large superficial vein of the leg. It is a myth that this is the best treatment for varicose veins because the vein can regrow in the future leading to recurrence, there are numerous potential complications (e.g., blood clots), and the vein will not available in the future if a bypass graft is needed. Another important point is that venous stripping techniques treats the problem at the surface only. Thus, it is important to contact a varicose veins treatment specialist who will identify and correct the underlying problem and restore venous blood flow. An alternative non-surgical treatment for varicose veins is foam sclerotherapy, in which a medicine is injected into varicose veins to make them shrink.
It is a myth that insurance will not pay for treatment of varicose veins. In reality, insurance companies will pay for treatment in most cases of varicose veins because it is a medical problem in addition to a cosmetic problem. People should not wait for pain to occur or all pregnancies to end before seeking treatment for varicose veins because the dysfunctional blood flow pattern needs to be corrected to prevent additional medical complications. The best news of all is that varicose veins will usually not recur if treated properly.