Varicose Veins: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are generally the result of abnormal blood flow caused by faulty valves. The veins in the body bring blood from the tissues back 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 veins that are enlarged, painful, and unsightly. Varicose veins can develop and worsen as we age.
What are the symptoms of varicose veins and are they serious?
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. In addition, some patients may experience:
- leg swelling
- wounds that form typically at the level of the ankle and are slow to heal
- blood clots that form in varicose veins, which result in a painful inflammatory reaction, but are rarely life threatening and are different from those in deeper veins that could travel to the heart and lungs
Who is most at risk for developing varicose veins?
Women are more likely to develop varicose veins 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.
What are the most effective treatments for varicose veins?
Compression stockings—socks that compress the leg from the ankle upwards, assisting blood flow from the leg—can be very effective in helping to manage symptoms related to varicose veins. However, many patients find the stockings 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 to expect after varicose vein treatment
The treatment options for varicose veins 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.
Can you prevent varicose veins?
While there is no way to prevent varicose veins from forming, being overweight has been suggested as a risk factor for varicose vein development. Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise can be helpful in managing your weight and may help in preventing them. Compression stockings are the first line of treatment for varicose veins. However, they are certainly not guaranteed to prevent them from forming.
Are there home remedies for varicose veins 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.
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.
If you have varicose veins, we can help. For more information, visit our website.
About the Author:
Jason P. Vachon, MD
Jason P. Vachon, MD, is a vascular and interventional radiologist at Rhode Island Medical Imaging. He specializes in treating varicose veins and chronic venous problems.