Varicose veins are swollen, twisted, blue veins that are close to the skin surface. They are common and not only affect one’s appearance, but can result in signs and symptoms of pain, swelling, dermatitis, and ulceration. These may be severe enough to curtail or limit one’s work and lifestyle.
El Camino Hospital’s Vein Center provides comprehensive evaluation and treatment for chronic venous disease.
Risks for Developing Varicose Veins
Varicose veins occur when the valves in the veins malfunction. This can occur as we get older and our veins lose elasticity; they remain stretched out and the valves can no longer close properly. The following factors increase your risk for developing varicose veins:
- Age - Varicose veins usually occur between the ages of 30 and 70.
- Gender – Women are more likely to develop the condition, usually related to hormonal changes. Female hormones tend to relax the vein walls.
- Hormone replacement and birth control pills - Increase your risk for varicose veins. Multiple pregnancies can also worsen varicose veins.
- Genetics - A family history of varicose veins increases your risk of developing the condition.
- Obesity – Obesity adds pressure on your veins.
- Activities, occupations, or hobbies – Activities that require standing for a long period of time can cause varicose veins.
- Past history of vein disease – A past history of diseases such as thrombophlebitis or deep venous thrombosis is linked to increased risk for varicose veins.
Overall, self care can help relieve and prevent varicose veins. Steps you can take include the following:
- Avoid standing from prolonged periods of time.
- Exercise regularly.
- Keep your weight down.
- Avoid crossing your legs when sitting.
- Wear elastic support stockings.
- Avoid wearing clothing that is tights or constricts at your waist, groin, or legs.
- Eat high fiber foods. (Constipation can contribute to varicose veins.)
- Cut your salt intake to prevent swelling.
- Elevate your legs when resting.
- When traveling or sitting in an all-day conference, get up and move about every 30-45 minutes.
When to Seek Medical Advice
Most of the suggestions above can ease the pain of varicose veins and prevent them from getting worse. However, if you have used these self-care measures and are concerned about continuing symptoms, please call the El Camino Hospital Health Line at 800.216.5556 to schedule a complete exam, evaluation, and ultrasound to help determine the appropriate treatment option for you.
Self-help measures such as exercising, losing weight, elevating the legs, wearing compression stockings and avoiding long periods of standing and sitting can ease the pain and prevent varicose veins from getting worse. However, if your varicose veins don't respond to self-help or they are very severe, the following options can be considered:
Sclerotherapy - A procedure in which small veins are injected with a solution that scars the vein. The treated veins will fade after a few weeks, though the same vein may need to be injected more than once.
Ambulatory Phlebectomy - The diseased vein is removed through a series of very tiny incisions, usually under local anesthesia. Recovery is rapid; however, the underlying problem of venous reflux is not addressed.
Stripping and Ligation - A long section of the vein is tied off and then removed along the length of the thigh.
Saphenous Vein Ablation - Usually performed as an outpatient procedure, the doctor inserts a thin catheter into the enlarged vein and guides the catheter under ultrasound imaging to the saphenous vein in the thigh. The catheter applies either laser energy or radiofrequency energy to destroy the vein by causing it to collapse from the inside, and to close the vein. As a result of sealing the saphenous vein, the "downstream" varicose veins which are close to the skin will usually shrink and improve in appearance. Other healthy veins will re-establish normal flow and continue to carry blood from the leg back to the heart. The radiofrequency device is called Closure® .