With up to 60% of Americans affected, varicose veins are among the most common health problems today. There are simple, do-it-yourself measures that can help prevent the development or slow the progress of varicose veins. In certain cases, removal of varicose veins by a specialist is necessary. This article is an overview of causes, symptoms and treatment options for varicose veins.
Causes of Varicose Veins
In most cases, varicose veins
develop in the superficial veins of the lower extremities. This has led doctors to think that they are the result of valve failure at the level where superficial veins connect to deep veins in the muscle of the legs. As gravitation creates higher pressure in the lower extremities when we stand or sit, blood backflows and pools into the superficial veins where the valve defects are present. In time, this leads to dilatation of the vein, with subsequent malfunction of the valve below, creating a sort of domino effect that leads to progression of varicose veins in time.
Here is a nice illustration of varicose vein
development according to this theory.
This theory does not explain why some people don't develop varicose veins despite the fact that they spend a lot of time on their feet. This reality has led some experts to come up with another theory on varicose veins development. According to this theory, in order for varicose veins to develop, one has to have a predisposition in the form of weaker venous walls.
In reality both theories hold some truth.
Varicose Veins Risk Factors
There are several factors that have been found to increase the risk of varicose veins development:
- Heredity. If you have blood relatives with varicose veins, your chances of developing them yourself are higher.
- Age. Varicose veins become more common as we advance in age. In some people they are just a marker of getting older.
- Obesity. Excessive weight has been consistently linked to an increased frequency of varicose veins. And it makes sense if you think about it: the head here you are the most pressure you for your legs and subsequently the more difficult it is for blood to return to the heart.
- Gender. We are more susceptible to develop varicose veins than men. The most likely reason is attributed to the various hormonal changes of female body goes through during to her fertile years (including pregnancy).
- Certain Drugs. Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy are some of the commonest culprits.
- Prolonged Standing. As mentioned earlier, when we stand the blood in the lower extremities has to flow against gravity. This in itself becomes a risk factor for developing varicose veins.
Varicose Veins Symptoms
Some of the most common symptoms of varicose veins are:
- aching pains, burning, throbbing, muscle cramping in the legs
- easily tired legs
- leg heaviness
- itching in the area of the varicose veins
- need to sit down in the afternoon and elevate legs to relieve the symptoms
In more advanced stages, varicose veins can cause:
- swelling of the lower legs
- darkening of the skin
- ankle ulcers difficult to treat
Can I Prevent Varicose Veins?
Although there is no foolproof method of preventing varicose veins, there are certain things you can do to decrease your risk:
- Exercise. The muscles in your legs act as a pump during exercise helping blood return to the heart. The more exercise you do less chance of developing or worsening varicose veins you have. To find out more about exercise, please visit our exercise section. To find out your optimal physical activity level, please visit our target heart rate calculator.
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time. It is very easy to keep standing or sitting in the same position for hours at a time especially at work. You should make a point of stopping every hour or so to change position. Even better, whenever possible try to elevate your legs when sitting so that your blood return is favored.
- Avoid crossing your legs. Keeping your legs crossed can seriously hinder blood circulation.
- Eliminate excessive weight. As I mentioned earlier, extra weight is not good for your veins. To find out how you can lose weight and keep it off, please visit our natural weight loss center.
- Make your attire vein-friendly. Avoid high heels as your calf muscles, which are aiding blood return from your legs, are not working properly when you wear high heels. Also, avoid tight clothes, especially around the waist, legs or groin, as it hinders blood circulation.
As you can see, the main idea is to improve blood circulation and muscle tone in the lower extremities.
I Have Varicose Veins. What Treatment Options Are Available?
A word of caution first. The market is full of true and self-declared specialists offering a wide array of treatments for varicose veins, all claiming their product or technique or approach is the best, with permanent results, no side effects and, or course, no pain. The best advice is if it sounds too beautiful to be true, probably it isn't...
This being said, there are several proven therapies for varicose veins, some of which can be done on an outpatient basis.
- Sclerotherapy. This is probably the most frequently used method. It involves injecting the varicose veins with a solution (usually concentrated salt solution, or hypertonic saline) that causes them to scar and become almost invisible in a few weeks. It is most appropriate for small or medium varicose veins. More details about varicose veins sclerotherapy here.
- Laser Treatment. This is a newer approach to varicose veins treatment. It involves sending a laser beam into the diseased vein, which causes it to become less visible in time. This technique works best for smaller varicose veins (also called spider veins). More about laser treatment for varicose veins here.
- Surgical Treatments. There are several surgical techniques used:
- Vein Stripping. In this procedure, larger varicose veins are surgically removed with the use of several small incisions.
- Catheter-assisted Treatments. Instead of removing the vein, a special tube (catheter) is inserted into the varicose vein and then slowly pulled out. As the tip of the catheter is heated, it damages the vein making it collapse. It is a technique reserved for larger varicose veins.
- Endoscopic Vein Surgery. This is a procedure usually reserved for complicated varicose veins, with ulcers. The vascular surgeon goes with a tiny video camera into the vein and then closes it.
One last word: even though the above treatments are, in general, very effective, varicose veins tend to reoccur, especially if the preventive measures listed above are not employed
For more information, here is an excellent interactive tutorial on varicose veins