Varicose veins are common and more women suffer from it than men. While they’re generally harmless and don’t really indicate a serious problem, for some people, they can lead to more serious conditions such as a blockage in the deeper veins causing deep vein thrombosis, that needs treatment. The swelling in the leg causes pain, blood clots and changes in the skin.
Varicose veins show up as swollen, twisted and largish veins under the skin, usually blue or red in color. You’ll generally see them in the legs, but they can appear elsewhere in the body, too.
What are the causes for varicose veins?
The one way valves in the leg veins move blood towards the heart. But when these valves don’t function the way they should, it makes the blood back up into the vein. The vein then swells as the blood collects there, causing varicose veins. The smaller varicose veins on the skin’s surface are called spider veins.
Who is at risk for varicose veins?
Some common risk factors for varicose veins are:
- Being female, where hormomal changes, pregnancy and menopause lead to varicose veins. The risk is increased with birth control pills and hormone replacement.
- Defective valves at birth
- A history of blood clots in the legs
- Standing or sitting for extended periods
- A family history of varicose veins
What are the symptoms of varicose veins?
- A fullness, a heavy ache and pain in the legs
- Swollen veins you can see
- Swelling in the ankle and feet
- Itching in the area
- Pain in the leg or calf after sitting for long periods
- Changes in skin color in the ankle and leg
- Dry skin that cracks easily
- Sores or ulcers on the skin that don’t heal normally
- Thickening and hardening of the skin in the leg and ankles over time
How are varicose veins diagnosed?
Usually, a clinical examination is done by the doctor to check for swelling, skin changes and sores. Blood flow in the veins is checked to rule out other problems like blood clots.
Treatment for varicose veins
Self care is a good starting point, based on the doctor’s advice to manage varicose veins.
Some options are:
- Wearing compression stockings to keep the swelling down. The stockings squeeze the legs so that blood moves up towards the heart, as it should.
- Avoiding sitting or standing for a long time. Instead, move the legs a little periodically to keep up the blood flow.
- Raise legs above heart level 3-4 times a day for about 15 minutes each time.
- If there are wounds, attend to them right away.
- If you are overweight, take action to lose excess weight.
- Maintain an exercise plan to keep the weight off and to keep up the blood circulation. Walking and swimming are ideal.
- For dry cracked skin on the legs, use moisturizer regularly. Consult with your doctor to learn what is best for your specific condition.
For severe cases of varicose veins, your doctor may also suggest the following:
To close off the vein:
- Laser treatment
- Radiofrequency treatment
To remove the vein:
- Phlebectomy, or stab avulsion
- Ligation and stripping
Since varicose veins progressively become worse, self-care is most important to reduce the pain and for preventing further problems.
You should see your doctor right away if you experience pain that gets worse in spite of self-care, or if you feel a sudden increase in pain and swelling accompanied by fever, redness of the leg or leg sores.
Although not all varicose veins can be prevented, here are some tips to reduce the risk of developing them and stop them making them worse.