Some chalk it up to getting older or having a career that keeps them on their feet all day, while others point the finger of blame at their mother or their children. Whatever the reasons, many people who suffer from varicose veins find the blue or purple raised lines unsightly and often painful.
“The normal function of the leg veins is to drain blood from the skin to the depth of the leg and back to the heart,” says Cecilia Lorenzo, M.D., F.A.C.S., R.V.T., vascular and general Surgeon at Centennial Medical Center. “This function is contingent on an intact set of valves. Once the valves are damaged, the blood flow becomes increasingly disorderly and leads to the symptoms of swelling and pain.”
Because they appear on the surface of the skin, it may seem that varicose veins are merely a cosmetic problem. These enlarged, bulging veins however, can actually be an indication of unhealthy conditions that are more than skin deep.
Dr. Lorenzo explains that for some people, varicose veins can cause painful throbbing, itching or leg fatigue. Others may develop areas of darkened skin or ulcers near the ankles. In some cases, tiny sub-surface lines called telangiectasia or more commonly, spider veins, appear on the face or legs.
Basically, in the cardiovascular system, the arteries carry blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Veins are the avenue for the return trip, bringing blood from the body back to the heart. Tiny one-way valves regulate the ebb and flow of this journey. Valve dysfunction, also called reflux or valve insufficiency, causes blood to pool, creating a bulging varicose vein. One reason this condition is commonly seen in the legs is that the veins within the lower extremities are most under the influence of gravity.
Women commonly develop this condition, in part because of the influence of hormones on the tone of the veins says Dr. Lorenzo. The pregnant uterus will also exert pressure on the veins within the pelvis further damaging the valves. In the United States, up to 25 percent of women and 15 percent of men, are affected by varicose veins, according to the Mayo Clinic. Besides age and gender, genetic factors also come into play. Varicose veins and venous disease are common among family members of affected patients.
Minimally Invasive Treatment
One of the biggest breakthroughs in managing varicose veins is applying laser or radio frequency energy to stop the flow within a malfunctioning vein. “Instead of removing this vein surgically, doctors guide a catheter into the vein via ultrasound technology,” says Dr. Lorenzo. “The catheter then delivers laser or ultrasonic energy to cause the vein to contract and seal.”
Most of the new treatments take an hour or less, and patients can be up and walking immediately. In fact, except for avid runners, cyclists or weight lifters who should wait at least a week before resuming workouts, patients are encouraged to walk after undergoing these procedures.
While there is no perfect way to avoid this condition, basic good health practices -- and the continuing breakthroughs in treatment -- can reduce the pain of varicose as well as improve a person's appearance.
Prevention goes a long way
Dr. Lorenzo emphasizes that, like many other medical conditions, prevention strategies can be employed for good vein health. Maintaining normal body weight and ambulation with calf muscle flexion are key methods of decreasing the pressure in the veins. In some circumstances, prescription strength compression socks or stockings may be necessary. Your surgeon can discern vein problems from other disorders that cause leg pain and help formulate a treatment plan that is best for you.