Could leg pain be due to varicose veins?

Patients who experience a feeling of pain, heaviness or a burning sensation in the legs may experience the symptoms of varicose veins.

These twisted and enlarged veins often develop with age, but they can also appear when people are younger. Any vein close to the surface of the skin, called a superficial vein, can become a varicose vein.

“For most people, varicose veins are simply a cosmetic concern,” said Dr. Christopher Huiras, general and vascular surgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse and Sparta, Wisconsin. “But for others, varicose veins can lead to more serious health problems, such as ulcers or large, life-limiting blood clots.”

Huiras explained the symptoms of varicose veins:

• Muscle cramps and swelling in the lower legs.

• Worse pain after sitting or standing for a long time.

• Itching, pain or warmth around one or more veins.

• Skin ulcers near the ankle.

Varicose veins are usually dark purple or blue in color, and they tend to appear twisted or bulging.

“Exercise, limiting sodium intake, losing weight and elevating the legs are self-care options to prevent varicose veins from getting worse,” Huiras said. “Buying compression stockings is often the first approach your healthcare team will suggest before trying other treatment options.”

Compression stockings can be worn during the day to improve blood circulation in the legs and reduce swelling and pain.

If these self-care options don’t provide pain relief, Huiras said options that could allow for quick recovery with minimal pain include:

• Sclerotherapy: In this procedure, a healthcare professional injects a solution into varicose veins that heals and closes the veins. It can be done with laser energy without needles.

• Minimally invasive catheter-assisted procedure: In this procedure using radiofrequency ablation or laser energy, a long, thin tube is placed in the vein and the tip is heated. This destroys large veins causing them to collapse and close.

• Vein stripping: In this procedure, a limited piece of vein is removed through small incisions on the leg. Removing the vein will not prevent blood from flowing through the leg, as the deeper veins in the leg support the larger volumes of blood.

• Ambulatory phlebectomy: This procedure, performed in the office of a healthcare professional, is less invasive than vein stripping.

“Smaller varicose veins are removed through a series of small skin punctures,” Hurias said. “Only the parts of the leg that are pricked are numbed. It is also performed in the operating room using sedation or other anesthesia for more extensive removal of the veins.

• Endoscopic vein surgery: This surgery is generally used for advanced cases where leg ulcers are present.

“Sometimes one or more procedures can be combined for better results,” Huiras said.

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