Most people at some point in their life have either experienced for themselves, known someone who has experienced or has observed someone who shows the signs of varicose veins. For those who suffer from this condition face anything from an unsightly cosmetic appearance to more serious health related issues.
It is estimated that in the United States, 19% of men and 36% of women develop varicose veins. Varicose veins tend to be inherited, usually becoming more prominent as a person ages.
Veins are blood vessels in the body that return deoxygenated blood from the extremities of the body (arms and legs) back to the heart and lungs to become reoxygenated, and then the blood is returned back throughout the body through the arteries.
Varicose veins occur when the veins become thickened, enlarged or full of twists and turns. The areas of the vein that are abnormally thick and /or twisted are said to be varicosities.
There have been many theories that have been presented as to why varicosities occurs in the veins, but most health professional and researchers agree that it is due to damaged or defective valves within the vein.
Valves within the vein prevent a backward flow of blood. Their function is to keep the blood moving toward the heart. The exact cause of why the valves stop functioning properly has generated much debate amongst the experts. Some state that it occurs in people who have too few valves or improperly functioning valves linked to hereditary problems. Other experts contend that people may be born with abnormalities of the vein wall itself, causing weakness within the vein which predisposes the valve to separate and become leaky. Regardless of the exact cause, the end result is that when a person has valves that don’t function properly, the blood flows in reverse down the superficial veins, instead of flowing up towards the heart.
There are several factors that have been shown to aggravate the condition of varicose veins including prolonged standing, obesity or having a distended belly, prior surgery or trauma to the leg, (this can interrupt normal blood flow) and a persons age (more common as we age). Varicose veins can occur during pregnancy. This is due to an increased blood volume of the mother and added pressure on the veins in the legs due to the increase ion weight gain, and the relaxation effects of the hormones estrogen and progesterone on the vein walls. Another aggravating factor is straining. A person who suffers from chronic constipation or urinary retentions from an enlarged prostrate, or someone who has a chronic cough or any other condition that would cause you to strain for prolonged periods of time can contribute the development of varicose veins.
In addition to the appearance of spider veins in the effected leg, there are other symptoms that one may experience. Symptoms may include a person’s leg(s) feeling heavy or aching, that is often worse at night or after exercise, swelling of the ankles, a brownish-blue shiny skin discolorations near the affected veins, or redness, dryness and itchiness of areas of the skin (termed stasis dermatitis or venous eczema), due to waste products building up in the leg. It is also common to have an overlapping condition called Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS for short.
Treatments for varicose veins are available and can either be surgical or non-surgical. One of the most common non-surgical treatments is sclerotherapy which has been used for treating varicose veins for over 150 years. With this treatment medicine is injected into the veins to make them shrink. Another treatment option used more in patients with severe cases is an invasive surgical procedure called stripping, where part or the entire saphenous vein main trunk is removed. There are some newer methods for treating varicose veins including Endovenous Thermal Ablation (endovenous laser treatment or radiofrequency ablation) and foam sclerotherapy. However, these treatments have not been well studied, specifically for their long term benefit.