6 Common Questions About Varicose Veins
Have you noticed the veins on your leg or thigh that are just too visible to ignore? These are varicose veins. These spider web-like projections may or may not cause any discomfort or pain, but their presence in our legs is an issue on its own. Let us find out more about varicose veins by answering the common questions about this vascular disorder.
What are varicose veins?
We all know that veins are the blood vessels that carry deoxygenated blood to the heart. Healthy veins are usually under the skin and should not be visible or enlarged. Varicose veins are enlarged, swollen, and twisting threads, often appearing blue or dark purple. Varicosities can occur in any vein of the body, but the varicose veins we often see are on our legs or thighs.
What causes varicose veins?
Varicose veins have valves that help pump blood towards the heart. There are times when these valves weaken or malfunction, causing the blood to regurgitate or flow slowly. As the body compensates by making the remaining good valves to work double-time to normalize the blood flow, the veins become enlarged, the blood becomes stagnant, and the superficial veins near the skin become palpable.
There are different factors that can cause varicose veins. Added pressure on the legs caused by pregnancy or weight gain, as well as prolonged standing can cause or aggravate the presence of varicosities on the legs. Hormonal imbalance may also affect the function of the veins.
Are varicose veins painful?
Not all varicose veins are painful. Some are just mild that the reason patients are searching for solutions is for aesthetic purposes only. However, if varicosity and the enlargement are severe and it already causes discomfort and sensitivity, as well as ulcerations and swelling of the leg, a trip to your doctor is necessary.
How are varicose veins diagnosed?
Diagnosing varicose veins may look as if a regular person can do it. While this is somehow true, since the varicosities are extremely visible on the legs of a patient, there are also other ways doctors observe and recognize the presence of these varicosities. A tourniquet test determines what part of the vein is defective or weak that may cause the veins to be enlarged or overworked. Doppler ultrasound may also be used to visualize the pathway of the veins and which part of the blood vessels have faulty valves. Doctors can also dig deeper and use duplex scanning or magnetic resonance venography to determine if there are blood clots that develop inside the veins because of the vascular condition.
How can we treat varicose veins?
Of course, we can! Typically, mild varicose veins that cause no discomfort can be relieved without undergoing any medical treatments. However, if the varicosities are severe that it can also cause other health complications, your doctor may recommend one of the following treatment modalities used to remedy varicose veins.
Sclerotherapy is one of the most common and sought-after treatments for varicose veins. It is basically a painless saline or chemical injection treatment that collapses or closes small to medium-sized veins so that it can be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream and fade its visibility. There are different types of sclerotherapy for varicose vein treatment based on the size of the vein and the extent of enlargement:
Laser-assisted: The least painful and invasive type and the most advanced
Foam sclerotherapy: The type intended for larger, more difficult-to-treat veins. A foamy substance is injected into the faulty vein to close it and allow the blood to redirect the flow to healthier veins.
Ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy: For large, deep veins that once required surgical treatment
Because sclerotherapy, in general, is the least invasive treatment option, the benefit of sclerotherapy is that it can eliminate varicose veins with no pain or downtime. However, its drawback is that the technique may not work effectively for larger, more extensive varicose veins. Several sessions need to be repeated until the veins disappear, and these require going back and forth to the doctor’s office for follow-up treatments and monitoring.
This procedure is also called vein stripping. This is a surgical procedure that allows the surgeon to make small cuts near the damaged vein and remove the faulty part of the blood vessel. Doctors sometimes combine phlebectomy with other procedures, such as ablation so that the results would be promising.
The main advantage of phlebectomy is that it is a permanent solution since the defective vein is totally removed. But like any surgical procedure, this varicose vein treatment comes with some risks and requires more recovery time than less invasive methods of varicose vein treatment.
Endovenous thermal ablation involves using a laser or radiofrequency energy to heat the inside of the vein. This step destroys the vein wall, and as the vein shrinks, the body absorbs it over time. Thermal ablation tends to work well as a varicose vein treatment, but it can cause a little bruising and discomfort for the first week or so. The procedure also uses a laser light or high-frequency radio waves to heat up the vein, so the application of anesthesia for this procedure is necessary.
Are home treatments effective for varicosities?
If the earlier mentioned procedures stress you out, there are still some home treatments that you can try out first before resorting to those medical interventions. Here are some of the most popular measures that doctors recommend their patients as home remedies:
Leg exercises. Movements can improve blood circulation and lessen pressure on the veins. Consider swimming, walking, cycling, or Pilates and yoga. You can check out this post of the best treadmill models for home use.
Wear compression stockings. They are thicker and much firmer than the regular stockings we know. They apply extra support and balanced pressure to the whole leg to somehow prevent enlargement of the veins.
Change your diet. Studies show that salty foods retain water in the body, making our blood pressure spike up. This, in return, adds more pressure on the veins to pump more blood, causing varicosities. Lessen your salt intake and increase your potassium by eating nuts, bananas, green leafy veggies, and fish. Adding fiber to your diet also lessens straining and constipation which may also affect the pressure on your veins.
Apply plant extracts. Topical application of certain plant extracts like grape seed oil, horse chestnut, sea pine, or Butcher’s broom can significantly help by addressing the symptoms of varicose veins.
Elevate your legs. This method is by far the most organic measure you can use. Elevating your legs makes it easier for the blood to flow to your heart, making your blood pressure decrease, and allowing the veins to relax and subside in size.
Massage. Gently massaging the affected areas can help to keep the blood moving through the veins. Try combining this with using the plant extracts or oils for double comfort. However, this technique should be used in caution as patients with severe varicosities are at risk of clot formation, which may further cause embolism or stroke.