Jason P. Vachon, MD
Varicose veins can certainly be an aesthetic problem. But they can also cause significant discomfort and affect quality of life.
We have all heard of varicose veins, but their cause is not always fully understood. Varicose veins are usually the result of abnormal blood flow caused by faulty valves. The veins in the body bring blood back from the tissues to the heart and lungs for oxygen. In diseased veins, however, blood may actually flow the wrong way. This is especially true in the legs, where returning blood has to fight gravity.
The result can be veins that become enlarged, painful, and unsightly. The most common symptoms are shooting pains and itching around the varicose veins. Additionally, some patients may experience:
sores which usually form on the ankle and are slow to heal
Blood clots that form in varicose veins, leading to a painful inflammatory reaction (these are rarely life threatening and are different from those in deeper veins that might travel to the heart and lungs)
Women are more likely to develop varicose veins than men. This is especially true for women who have had multiple children. Varicose veins can also develop and worsen with age.
Genetics can also play a role. If you have close family members who have varicose veins, you are more likely to develop them yourself.
What are the most effective treatments for varicose veins?
Compression stockings (socks that compress the leg from the ankle upwards, helping blood flow to the leg) can be very effective in helping to manage symptoms related to varicose veins. However, many patients find the stockings uncomfortable to wear.
There are a variety of minimally invasive outpatient treatments to help treat varicose veins. In the unlikely event of an adverse reaction to any of the medications used during the procedures, being in a hospital setting ensures patients have prompt access to any emergency medical care they may need.
Here are some treatment options:
thermal ablation (laser or radiofrequency)
vein removal (phlebectomy)
injection of agents to scar small veins to make them disappear (sclerotherapy)
These treatment options require incisions less than a quarter inch. Patients can usually go home 30 minutes after their procedure and resume most routine activities within 24 hours. However, patients should refrain from more strenuous exercise for two weeks after most procedures. Patients can expect some discomfort usually for one to two weeks afterwards. This is usually effectively managed with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Home remedies and prevention
Many websites promote a variety of home remedies for varicose veins, but there isn’t much research to back up most of these claims. Although most home remedies are unlikely to be harmful, it is always best to discuss them with your doctor before trying them.
Although there is no way to prevent varicose veins from forming, being overweight has been suggested as a risk factor for developing varicose veins. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly can be helpful in managing your weight and can help prevent them.
Jason P. Vachon, MD, is a vascular and interventional radiologist at Rhode Island Medical Imaging. He specializes in the treatment of varicose veins and chronic venous problems. Newport Hospital provides this monthly column for the Newport Daily News.