Varicose veins are damaged veins that have become enlarged and sometimes twisted. They appear blue to dark blue in colour due to the accumulation of deoxygenated blood, and can often bulge out from the surface of the skin. Varicose veins can cause mild to moderate pain and are sometimes associated with ulcers or sores on the skin. Although varicose veins can occur anywhere on the body, they are most commonly found on the legs.
What Causes Varicose Veins
While oxygenated blood travels through the body in the arteries, deoxygenated blood travels back to the heart through the veins. Since the pathway back to the heart must go against gravity, veins have a system of small leaflet valves that are designed to prevent the back flow of blood. However, if the leaflets of these valves become damaged so that they do not close properly, the deoxygenated blood can flow back and accumulate in the veins causing varicose veins. The condition is exacerbated if the walls of the veins become weakened. In some cases, these factors are hereditary. However, lifestyle factors, such as being too sedentary, can also contribute to vein valve damage and the weakening of the vein walls. For women, hormonal imbalances can also contribute to the formation of varicose veins.
Dangers Of Varicose Veins
One of the most frequent problems encountered with varicose veins is serious bleeding. This occurs because skin over the varicose veins is often very thin and fragile. Therefore, it is easier for bleeding to occur in these areas if the skin is broken. For this reason, people with varicose veins should be more gentle when drying off with a bath towel and when scrubbing the skin around their varicose veins, such as with a loofah sponge or another type of abrasive cleaning aid. The most serious potential danger of varicose veins is the formation of blood clots.
There are two basic types of blood clots. The first type of blood clot is called superficial thrombophlebitis. This occurs just below the skin and can be painful, but it is usually not life threatening. The second type of blood clot is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which is a clot in a deeper vein. This second type of blood clot can be life threatening, in part because it often goes undetected, and because it can potentially break off and travel to the lungs.
Treatment Options For Varicose Veins
There are several types of treatment for varicose veins. Here are the most common treatments:
1. Compression Stockings
You can buy these stockings over the counter or have them prescribed by your doctor. These stockings are designed put pressure against your veins which can relieve pain and prevent accumulation of fluids in your legs and feet. Prescription compression stockings usually provide more pressure than over the counter ones. If you need just a little support, you can also try using support pantyhose.
This procedure can be performed in a doctor's office with no anaesthesia. The doctor injects each varicose vein with a chemical that causes the vein walls to swell so much they stick together and then permanently seal shut. The sealed vein then turns into scar tissue, and in most cases, the colour completely fades away. In some cases, it may take more than one sclerotherapy treatment to get the vein to seal permanently and fade.
3. Ultrasound-guided Sclerotherapy
This procedure is very similar to sclerotherapy except ultrasound is used to guide the needle. This is used for varicose veins that are not as close to the surface and may be difficult for the doctor to view.
Stripping is a type of surgery where the varicose veins are tied shut and then surgically removed through small cuts in the skin. This procedure does require anaesthesia and approximately four weeks recovery time.
How To Prevent Varicose Veins
Even if varicose veins run in your family, there are several ways you can prevent, or at least reduce, varicose veins. Here are some of the best ways:
1. Walking and Other Exercise
Walking and any other forms of exercise that gets your legs moving creates a blood pump in the leg muscles that strengthens the veins and improves blood flow. Fun activities like gardening, bike riding, tennis, chasing the kids, and playing with your dog can help a lot.
2. Don't Cross Your Legs
When you are sitting, do not cross your legs as this can seriously impair blood flow.
3. Lose Weight
Extra weight puts a lot of extra pressure on your legs and can hasten the formation of varicose veins.
4. Don't Sit Or Stand In One Place Too Long
If you have a sedentary job, try to get up at least once an hour and move around a bit. When you are sitting, try to elevate your legs on a footstool.