You may not think much about how blood gets from your feet and legs to your heart until you notice varicose veins.
These twisted, thick, blue veins just below your skin appear on the calves or lower legs of up to 40 million people in the United States.
They can cause aching and pain, and even swelling or rashes. Fortunately, minimally invasive vein surgery can be much satisfying when other remedies show to be not effective.
Who Gets Varicose Veins?
About 55 percent of women and 45 percent of men have some type of problem with their veins, with varicose veins affecting half of all people 50 and older.
Before age 50, varicose veins are more common in women, however among people in their fifties, sixties, and beyond, varicose veins are as common in men as they are in women.
What are the Causes of Varicose Veins?
The veins in your body carry blood back to your heart. They contain small valves that open to let blood through and then close to prevent blood from back-flowing in the wrong direction, and for people with varicose veins, the valves in the legs’ superficial veins — the veins that are only 1 to 2 centimeters beneath the skin — stop closing, and gravity pulls blood back down so that it pools inside the vein.
The most common reason for varicose veins is heredity. When there have been one family member with a history of varicose veins, your risk of developing them is 25 to 30 percent, When two family members had them, your risk rises to 30 to 45 percent.
Women who have had three or more pregnancies are also at higher risk because the extra weight from the uterus puts pressure on the veins in the legs, which makes it harder for the blood to get through. It’s also the reason people who are obese are at higher risk of varicose veins.
Having a history of blood clots also increases your risk.
Varicose Vein Symptoms
People with varicose veins may experience:
- Visible blue, bulging veins, though they can also be invisible
- Swelling around the ankles or lower legs that goes away after having the legs elevated overnight
- Aching and a feeling of heaviness in the leg
- Itching, rashes, and a feeling of warmth or heat around the areas of the varicose veins
- Cuts or scratches around the veins that don’t heal well, which happens because the leg is filled with extra blood.
What You Can Do at Home for Varicose Veins
You may not be able to avoid varicose veins, the following can lower your risk of developing them or of needing vein surgery:
Keep up good leg circulation.
Exercising every day by walking or moving your lower body for about 15 to 30 minutes is good for your overall health as well as for leg circulation. While it’s sometimes difficult to avoid, standing or sitting for long periods can cause gravity to pull blood down into your veins. shift your weight from one foot to another while you’re standing, or get up every 30 minutes when you're sitting and take a brief walk even around your home will increase leg circulation.
Get some leg support, using support stockings that will compress the leg and push the blood in the right direction. The stockings are available in different gradient compressions, so you should talk to your doctor about which ones are right for you.
Keep in mind. Not all compression stockings are the type your grandma would have used.
Some look like traditional knee-high or thigh-high nylons for women or white sports socks or black trouser socks for men.
Elevate your legs. Raising your legs above heart level can help blood drain out of swollen varicose veins. However, most people don’t elevate their legs high enough. You’ll need to be on a recliner or lying on a couch with your legs higher than your heart for it to be effective.
Professional Treatments for Varicose Veins
When you’re not getting relief from compression stockings and exercise, it’s time to see a vascular surgeon and think about vein surgery.
Here are options your surgeon may recommend:
This procedure involves injecting a chemical into the vein that scars the varicose veins and stops blood from filling them. This type of procedure is typically used for varicose vein “branches” and spider veins.
This outpatient procedure involves inserting a catheter with a slender tube into the vein using an ultrasound as a guide. As the catheter is slowly removed, it emits an energy source, either laser or radiofrequency energy, to close the vein from the inside vein wall.
Patients walk away with a puncture wound the size of a needle and can exercise within 72 hours.
This procedure is centuries old. It’s used rarely today, and only in patients whose varicose veins are too large to close with ablation.
Vein stripping involves making an incision in the groin and in the calf, tying off the varicose vein branches, and then removing the vein.
With any procedure, there’s always a risk of developing a blood clot afterwards, however your surgeon should check for clots after the procedure is finished and a couple of days later.
It is also possible for a new varicose vein to develop in the future.
While taking measures to prevent varicose veins is always a smart step, it’s good to know that less invasive procedures than were available in the past can get rid of varicose veins, should you develop them.
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