Many of us have varicose veins. In fact 50 percent of people have them and they occur more often in women than men. Varicose veins are gnarled, dilated, twisted veins that can appear blue, red or flesh-colored anywhere on the body. Sometimes they can become swollen and tender other times a person may not notice them at all.
Varicose veins commonly appear along the legs, often in the back of the calves or thighs. During pregnancy, varicose veins can also develop near the vagina or buttocks. Varicose veins are caused by weaknesses of the valves inside the veins. When our hearts beat, blood is brought back to the heart through our veins. However, if the valves have become damaged, the blood backs up and collects in the veins allowing them to bulge and distend.
Symptoms of varicose veins in the legs:
Achiness or cramping after sitting or standing for a prolonged period of time.
Swelling or feeling of heaviness
A rash or darkening of the skin
Restless feelings in the legs
• Age: Varicose veins are more common after the age of 50.
• Medical/Family history: Half the people with varicose veins have a family member with them.
• Pregnancy: Blood volume increases greatly during pregnancy combined with pressure from the enlarging uterus, more pressure is placed on the valves inside the veins.
• Hormones: Changes in estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy, menopause or through birth control pills can contribute.
• Obesity and decreased activity can allow more blood to pool in veins.
Diagnosis and Treatments:
It is wise to have a doctor evaluate an area with varicose veins to determine your risk for problems with blood clots and decide the best treatment.
Wearing compression stockings are a simple way to increase the blood return from the legs and take the pressure off of those veins. They can be purchased over the counter and in some cases prescription hose may be needed if more pressure is needed.
Sclerotherapy is one of the most common treatments for varicose veins. The doctor injects a chemical in the veins that causes the vein to seal shut so no blood can flow through them. The vein then turns into scar tissue. Side effects may include stinging raised areas or brown lines in the areas injected, which do resolve soon afterwards.
Surface laser treatments send short bursts of light that gradually fade the veins after two to five treatments. This is effective for smaller varicose veins that are about one tenth of an inch. Side effects are minimal such as redness or discoloration of the skin that improves and will disappear. Rarely scars or burns occur.
Endovenous techniques (radiofrequency and laser) have replaced much of the need for surgical treatments of deeper varicose veins. The doctor places a small probe inside the vein and laser energy or radiofrequency seals the vein.
Surgery is used to treat very large varicose veins. There are various types of surgeries depending on need and will require anesthesia and longer recovery times.
Prevention and home treatment of varicose veins:
• Exercise your legs to improve strength and circulation.
• Do not cross your legs for long periods of time.
• Elevate your legs whenever possible especially after long periods of standing.
• Wear compression or support hose.
• Keep your weight down.
• Eat a low sodium diet with fiber to reduce constipation and prevent hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are also considered to be varicose veins.
Varicose veins and spider veins fact sheet. Womenshealth.gov. Web 9, Oct. 2011.
Varicose veins. The Mayo Clinic Staff. Web 9, Oct. 2011.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles
Edited by Jody Smith