What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are blue and purple veins that seem to twist and bulge just below the skin’s surface. They are most typically seen on the legs, but can appear nearly anywhere on the body. Around 40 million Americans have varicose veins to some degree, with the large majority consisting of women. However, some men also develop varicose veins. VeinRecovery has the information you need to understand varicose veins and the treatment options available.
What Causes Them?
Veins are responsible for carrying blood back to the heart. The veins located in the lower extremities must work the hardest to pump blood against gravity from the feet to the chest area. Tiny valves inside the veins make sure the blood flows in the correct direction. Through the natural aging process or other factors, those valves can sometimes stop working properly.
When the valves are no longer able to effectively push the blood through the veins, blood begins to pool in a single area. This condition is known as venous insufficiency. The increased blood puts pressure on the vein and causes it to swell, leading to the formation of varicose veins.
For some, varicose veins are little more than a cosmetic concern. However, some people with varicose veins experience uncomfortable symptoms that lead them to seek treatment for the condition. Varicose veins can also be a sign of a more serious underlying venous condition. For this reason, it is a good idea to have varicose veins evaluated by an experienced physician who specializes in venous conditions.
The first symptom of varicose veins is usually the appearance of blue or purple lines on the surface of the leg, typically around the inside of the leg or back of the calves. If left unchecked, the lines can begin to twist and bulge from the skin’s surface, and may be blue, purple, green or flesh colored. For some people, the visible sign of the varicose vein is the only symptom they will experience. Others develop more uncomfortable symptoms, including:
- Achy or heavy feeling in the legs
- Swelling in the lower leg, particularly after long periods of standing or sitting
- Burning or itching in the area of the affected veins
- Discomfort that increases with long periods of sitting or standing
- Discoloration of the skin or the formation of skin sores around the ankles
Symptoms of varicose veins may also indicate a more serious venous condition is present. It is a good idea to make an appointment with a physician if the symptoms are bothersome or worsen over time.
Risk Factors for Varicose Veins
Varicose veins can strike anyone at any age, but there are a few factors that increase the risk for developing this condition. Some of those risks include:
- Genetics – If other members of your family have had varicose veins, you are more likely to have them as well. Approximately 50% of those who have developed varicose veins have a family history of the condition.
- Gender – Women are much more likely to develop varicose veins than men. Some of the counts against the female population might include natural fluctuations in hormones, pregnancy or use of oral contraceptives.
- Age – The valves inside the veins are subjected to normal wear and tear over time. This means that varicose veins are more likely to develop as a natural part of the aging process.
- Weight – Being overweight adds additional pressure to the legs, which can increase a person’s risk for developing varicose veins.
- Pregnancy – Women are more likely to develop varicose veins during pregnancy for two reasons. First, fluctuating hormones in the early stages of pregnancy may lead to weakening of the veins. During the later months, the pressure of the growing baby may increase the risk varicose veins will develop.
- Lifestyle – Individuals with jobs or activities that require long periods of standing could be at higher risk of varicose veins, due to the increased pressure on the lower legs.
Are Varicose Veins Dangerous?
In many cases, varicose veins are nothing more than a cosmetic nuisance. However, some cases of varicose veins belie an underlying venous condition, such as deep vein thrombosis or DVT. DVT is a condition where a blood clot forms in the deep veins of the legs. If the clot breaks loose, it can travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it might result in a pulmonary embolism. Other blood clots can travel to the heart or brain, where they can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Varicose veins left untreated may also increase the risk for the appearance of skin sores on the lower legs around the ankle. Known as venous ulcers, these sores may not heal well, increasing the person’s risk for infection. If skin becomes discolored or a sore begins to develop, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible.
Treatment Options and Costs
Today, there is a wide range of treatment options for varicose veins, many of which are listed here at VeinRecovery. Some of the choices include:
- Compression Stockings and Lifestyle Changes
- Sclerotherapy, Asclera and Sclerofoam
- Endovenous Ablation
- Radiofrequency Occlusion (VNUS)
- Intense Pulse Light Therapy
- Endovenous Laser Therapy and ELVeS
- Ambulatory Phlebectomy and Vein Stripping
- VeinGogh and Veinwave
The cost for vein treatment depends on a number of factors, including the specific procedure performed and the number of sessions required to achieve desired results. Even the area where the physician is located will impact the price for treatment. In some cases, insurance may cover at least a portion of the treatment, particularly if the patient is experiencing uncomfortable symptoms or an underlying venous condition is diagnosed.