What Are Varicose Veins and How Are They Treated?
Varicose veins can show up at any age. They're more common after 40 and in women, but men can also get them.
Varicose veins are blood vessels with an irregular shape that dilate when the vessel walls are weakened. They may be greenish, blue, or purple.
Some are also surrounded by little red capillaries, commonly known as spider veins.
Both varicose veins and spider veins can appear on any part of your body. However, they are most common in the legs and pelvic area.
- Noticeable blue, purple, or green veins
- Leg cramps
- Pain in the back of your knee
- Itching around the vein
- A brownish skin tone
Why do they form?
They happen when healthy veins get inflamed and prevent blood from flowing normally.
Usually, blood flows through veins to your heart. However, it’s unknown exactly why the blood gets blocked, although there are certain factors that increase your risk:
- Hormonal changes
- Standing for long periods of time
- Wearing clothes that are too tight
If you have some of the symptoms above, it’s best to see a doctor to get checked out.
After a physical exam, they will do an ultrasound in order to look at how the blood is moving. The ultrasound will help them see both superficial and deep veins.
Fortunately, not all varicose veins require medical treatment (that is, as long as they don’t interfere with your daily life).
You should be concerned if:
- They don’t allow you to walk or stand for long
- There are ulcers
- Your feet and ankles swell
Ulcers are tricky, because they could happen due to stasis, or in other words when your veins get larger and don’t drain normally. The problem with this is that your skin isn’t getting oxygen and thus wounds will appear.
In addition, phlebitis (inflammation of the vein) and thrombosis (clots in the vein) could develop.
Treatment for varicose veins
One of the most common treatments is nonsurgical and is called sclerotherapy.
It consists of an injection of saline solution, which causes the veins to collapse. In other words, once the blood is held up in the vein, the vein doesn’t work anymore and the injection makes it “disappear.”
But what happens with the blood, then? The closest healthy veins take over the job of transporting blood to the heart. Therefore, circulation returns to normal.
However, sclerotherapy takes multiple sessions: on average, 3 injections per vein.
How does it work?
Up to 40 veins can be treated in one session. Afterwards, a 4-6 week rest is required for them to heal. Wearing supportive socks is recommended in this time period.
Other veins can be treated in the rest period, but never the same veins.
What does it feel like?
Of course, it’s uncomfortable at first, like the little pinch from the needle. Some people have side effects like:
- Mild inflammation
Moderate exercise is recommended for faster healing.
The good news is that treated veins disappear in 6 months and rarely reappear.
We should point out that sclerotherapy doesn’t prevent new varicose veins. It just removes the ones that are already there.
Are there alternatives?
A few alternative treatments for varicose veins include:
- The application of intense, pulsating light. It takes 1 to 6 sessions.
- Laser treatment, for the small blood vessels in the face and legs.
- Vein ligation: This is a surgical procedure where an incision is made in the skin and then the veins are removed or tied.
- Radiofrequency ablation: Radiofrequency energy is used via a catheter to close off the vein.
How can I prevent them?
- Do not stay in the sun for long periods of time.
- Elevate your legs for a few minutes before bed.
- If you’re on your feet a lot, it’s a good idea to stop every two hours and stretch.
- Wear compression socks.
- Eat a balanced diet to manage your weight.
- Don’t drink or smoke.
- Be careful with sudden temperature changes.
- Do some physical activity at least 3 times a week for a half hour each.
- It’s not a good idea to wear nylon socks or corsets.
- Don’t sit with your legs crossed.