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Eight Things You Need to Know About Varicose Veins
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are generally the result of abnormal blood flow. The veins in the body bring blood back from the tissues to the heart and lungs to get oxygen. Blood can flow the wrong way in diseased veins. This is particularly true in the legs, where returning blood must fight gravity. The result is enlarged, painful, and unsightly veins. These typically develop and worsen as we age.
Who is most at risk for developing varicose veins?
Women are more likely to have them than men. This is particularly true for women who have had multiple children. There is also a genetic component. If you have close family members with varicose veins, you are more likely to develop them yourself.
Can they be prevented?
Compression stockings—socks that are loose at the feet and compress the leg from the ankle upwards, preventing blood from flowing the wrong way—are the first line of treatment for varicose veins. However, they are certainly not guaranteed to prevent them from forming. Being overweight has also been suggested as a risk factor for varicose vein development. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise can be helpful.
Are there home remedies that work?
There are plenty of websites that promote a variety of home remedies for varicose veins, but there is not much research to back up most of those claims. While most of the home remedies are unlikely to be harmful, it is always best to discuss them with your doctor before trying them out.
Can varicose veins cause other medical complications?
Varicose veins are not just a cosmetic issue—they can cause significant discomfort. The most common symptoms are throbbing pain and itching around varicose veins. Some people may develop leg swelling. In more severe cases, wounds can form, typically at the level of the ankle, which can be slow to heal due to changes in blood flow. Blood clots can form in varicose veins, although these are different from the clots in deeper veins which could travel to the heart and lungs. Clots associated with varicose veins can result in a painful inflammatory reaction, but are rarely life threatening.
What are the most effective treatments for varicose veins?
Compression stockings can be very effective in helping to manage symptoms related to varicose veins. However, many patients find the stockings to be uncomfortable to wear. There are a variety of minimally invasive outpatient treatments to help treat varicose veins:
- thermal (laser or radiofrequency) ablation
- vein removal (phlebectomy)
- injection of agents to scar small veins to make them disappear (sclerotherapy)
What can I expect from treatment?
These treatments are all minimally invasive, requiring incisions less than a quarter inch. Patients are typically able to go home 30 minutes after their procedure and can resume most of their routine activities within 24 hours. However, patients should refrain from heavier exercise for two weeks after most procedures. Patients can expect some discomfort generally for one to two weeks afterwards. This is usually effectively managed with over the counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
What are the benefits of having treatment in a hospital setting?
In the unlikely event of an adverse reaction to any of the medications used during the procedures, being in a hospital setting guarantees patients will have rapid access to any emergency medical care they may require.
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In case you missed this WPRI 12 segment, a lifelong smoker recounts how being routinely screened for lung cancer led Lifespan Cancer Institute doctors to find, and then surgically remove, a malignant nodule. Dr. Douglas Martin is interviewed in this important story on lung cancer screening, and researcher Dr. Sandra Japuntich is now researching how to motivate former and current smokers to get screened