Varicose veins are those veins that are larger than normal. They are colored, bulging veins that mostly appear around the legs and feet. The word itself varicose is coined from the Latin word “vatrix” which means twisted. Large varicose veins are usually twisted or ropelike in appearance and maybe blue, purple or red in color. They can also be found on the thighs. Due to aesthetic reasons, some may want to seek varicose veins treatments.
Are varicose veins dangerous? No, they have simply enlarged veins, mostly do not need treatment, and some people prefer to get rid of them for cosmetic reasons only (yes, they can be an eyesore). However, people with varicose veins who experience pain and discomfort may require treatment. In severe cases, the vein can cause varicose ulcers on the skin when it ruptures.
Varicose veins tend to affect more women than men due to factors like pregnancy, menopause, and fluctuations in hormone levels. In both genders, risk factors include; obesity, age(because of wear and tear of the vein valves), and occupation(jobs that involve standing or sitting for long hours).
ARE VARICOSE VEINS THE SAME AS SPIDER VEINS?
Varicose Veins vs Spider Veins
It is easy to mistake varicose veins for spider veins or vice-versa, but the two are quite different. While varicose veins are large and twisted, spider veins, on the other hand, are small and branched. Spider veins do not bulge out from the skin like varicose veins, they also resemble tree branches or spider webs, whereas varicose veins look like twisted ropes. Spider veins can be found on the legs or on the face, while varicose veins rarely appear on the face. People often ask when to worry about varicose veins, the answer is always the same – If it causes you physical discomfort.
SYMPTOMS OF VARICOSE VEINS
In most cases, varicose veins are asymptomatic (present no symptoms) and only the bulging and colored appearance indicate it’s existence. In circumstances where varicose veins are accompanied by symptoms, the symptoms may appear as :
- Throbbing or burning in the legs
- Swollen feet and ankles
- An uncomfortable heavy feeling and tiredness in the legs
- Muscle cramps that often occur at night
- Itching of the skin where the varicose vein is located
- Vein on foot hurts to touch
WHAT CAUSES VARICOSE VEINS?
Varicose veins occur due to problems with the valves in the veins. The valves in the veins operate in a one-way direction. When the heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to the body, the veins transport the blood from the body back to the heart.
Varicose veins appear when the one-way valves of the veins fail to stop blood from leaking towards the lower end of the vein as opposed to being transported back to the heart. The accumulation of the leaked blood in the veins causes the veins to enlarge and bulge out of the skin by stretching against its walls (loses its elasticity). A popular example is the varicose veins in pregnancy.
WHAT CAUSES VARICOSE VEINS IN WOMEN?
Pregnancy, changing hormone levels and menopause can all increase a woman’s chances of getting varicose veins. Women are more prone to getting varicose veins during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the heart pumps more blood to support the unborn child. The excess blood places more pressure on the veins and causes them to swell. The uterus carrying the child also puts extra weight on the veins and causes them to enlarge and protrude through the skin. Pregnancy-induced varicose veins usually disappear after childbirth.
Fluctuating estrogen levels in women can cause the weakening of the vein valves which may result in the appearance of varicose veins. Birth control agents that contain estrogen and progesterone such as pills, injections, and intrauterine device (IUD) can increase a woman’s risk of getting varicose veins. Hormone therapy in menopausal women can also cause varicose veins. Other factors such as age, obesity, and genetic history can also increase the chances of developing varicose veins in women.
HOW ARE VARICOSE VEINS DIAGNOSED?
The first point of diagnosis often involves a physical varicose veins examination where the doctor checks for the presence of varicose veins by asking the patient to stand up. An ultrasound scan can then be recommended to check if blood is flowing in the right direction in the veins. This is known as the doppler test. The doppler test may also involve checking for blood clots or blockage
Another type of ultrasound test called a color duplex ultrasound scan can be recommended to help the doctor visualize the detailed structure of the veins and check for abnormal developments. This is possible because the ultrasound provides colored images of the veins. It also measures the rate at which blood is flowing within the veins.
WHAT ARE THE BEST VARICOSE VEINS TREATMENTS?
The majority of varicose veins treatments focus on removing the enlarged veins or improving their appearance. The veins may or may not appear again after removal. Varicose veins caused by age usually tend to reoccur and will need treatment each time it re-appears. Treatment options mostly depend on the severity of the varicose veins. Here are some tested and trusted remedies for varicose veins.
SCLEROTHERAPY: This is one of the invasive Varicose veins treatments. its procedure involves injecting a painless saline injection into the vein to seal it off so that it can be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. It is a very painless procedure and the only disadvantage is that it may not treat larger varicose veins. Also, It has to be done repeatedly for the veins to completely disappear. There are about three major types of sclerotherapy, they include :
Laser-assisted sclerotherapy: It is the latest and most advanced form of sclerotherapy treatment. In laser therapy, strong concentrated light beams are used to penetrate the affected veins, causing it to fade and disappear.
Foam sclerotherapy: A foam solution(detergents or emulsifiers charged up with air) is used to inject a large vein. The foam causes the walls of the veins to swell and come together, which helps to close the vein.
Ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy: Uses ultrasound to treat large and extensive varicose veins that may have undergone surgery.
THERMAL ABLATION: This is also known as radiofrequency ablation and it is one of the oldest varicose veins treatments. The technique involves the use of laser energy to heat the inside of the vein (to about 200 degrees).
Sometimes a catheter is inserted into the vein and the heat is applied through the catheter. The heat causes the vein to collapse and close off. It is mostly used to treat large varicose veins. An anesthetic is often given before the procedure to help with pain from the heating. Veins usually disappear or become less noticeable in as little as two weeks after the procedure.
PHLEBECTOMY: In this procedure, cuts are made near the affected vein to remove the entire vein. It is a surgical procedure and it is sometimes done together with ablation. It offers permanent treatment for varicose veins because there is a very slight chance of the vein re-appearing again since it has been completely removed. However, the procedure may be associated with some risks and the patient will need a lot of time to recover post-surgery.
AMBULATORY PHLEBECTOMY: Skin punctures are made to remove small varicose veins with the use of hooks in this varicose vein treatment technique. Anesthesia is applied to the areas that are punctured to help with the pain.
HOW TO PREVENT VARICOSE VEINS?
Varicose veins cannot be entirely prevented as certain factors that cause their appearance such as age and genetic factors are beyond human control. However, you can minimize their appearance or reduce the risk of getting varicose veins through the following:
- Avoid standing or sitting for long hours of time
- Using Varicose veins socks
- Using essential oils for varicose veins
- Performing exercises regularly to help improve blood circulation
- Do not sit with your legs crossed often as doing that can place huge pressure on the veins
- Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing as they can limit blood flow
- If you can’t avoid sitting for long periods of time, then ensure to always keep your legs elevated while sitting (as the same height as the heart or above). This will minimize pressure on the veins and blood can easily flow back to the heart.
- Watch your weight gain
- Opt for certified varicose veins treatments
- And lastly, always eat a balanced and healthy diet.