By Kenneth A. Goldman, M.D.
As you age, the likelihood of developing varicose veins increases.
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, varicose veins and their smaller counterparts, known as spider veins, affect half of adults over 50.
Years ago, procedures to treat varicose veins required hospitalization and long, uncomfortable recovery periods.
By contrast, today’s treatments are performed in the office and are quick, safe and essentially painless.
At the Center for Vascular Care at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center, board certified vascular surgeons along with skilled nurses and trained vascular staff offer a variety of treatment options for vascular conditions, including varicose veins.
Women at Greater Risk
Varicose veins occur when the valves in the legs weaken and become damaged. As a result, blood backs up and pools in the veins, causing them to stretch and bulge.
Over time, these veins lose their elasticity, becoming longer and wider and exacerbating valve failure. Because of this, varicose veins are usually progressive and tend to become increasingly worse.
Genetics play a significant role in determining whether you’ll develop varicose veins. If one parent had them, you have about a 50 percent chance of developing them. If both parents had them, the likelihood jumps to an estimated 90 percent.
While both men and women can develop varicose veins, women experience the condition more frequently than their male counterparts.
Women who have had one or more children, along with individuals who stand – or sit – in one place for long periods of time run the greatest risk of developing symptomatic varicose veins.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Varicose veins often lead to achiness, heaviness, or tiredness in the legs. Some patients also report itchiness, especially in the lower part of the leg.
Warm weather can make symptoms worse. In more severe cases, leg ulcers can develop leading to infection and wound care challenges.
If left untreated, varicose veins can hinder everyday activities.
You should seek medical attention from a vascular surgeon if you notice any of the following symptoms:
• Bulging veins
• Swelling in your legs
• Brownish ankle discoloration
• Achiness, tiredness, and heaviness in your legs
Not Your Grandma’s Surgery
The first line of treatment for varicose veins involves keeping the legs elevated as much as possible and wearing properly fitted compression socks. These measures will often alleviate symptoms and slow progression, but they don’t actually fix the underlying problem.
If symptoms persist, surgical procedures including radio frequency ablation and sclerotherapy can close and seal leaking veins.
Radiofrequency ablation is a minimally invasive treatment in which heat is used to seal the leaking vein, naturally rerouting blood through healthier, properly working veins.
Sclerotherapy involves injecting a chemical solution into the vein. Often the solution used is a foam which adheres to the walls of the vein and causes it to shrink, until it is ultimately absorbed by the body. This minimally-invasive procedure is especially effective for people with recurrent or stubborn varicose veins.
Typically, these procedures can be performed in the office and take about 15 minutes on average. You usually can drive yourself to the appointment and, in many cases, resume normal activity the same day.
Most insurances will cover the procedures, as they are more than simply a cosmetic fix.
Put Your Feet Up
Though you can’t control genetics, there are steps you can take to help stop varicose veins from getting worse. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers these tips:
• Get regular physical activity. Muscles in the legs help your veins push blood back to the heart, against the force of gravity. If you have varicose veins in your legs, any exercise that works the muscles in your legs will help prevent new varicose veins from forming.
• Lose weight if you are overweight or obese. Extra weight makes it more difficult for your veins to move blood back up to your heart. Losing weight may also help prevent new varicose veins from forming.
• Do not sit or stand still for long periods of time. If you must sit or stand at work or home for a long time, take a break every 30 minutes to stand up and walk around. This helps the muscles in your legs move the blood back up to your heart more effectively than when you are sitting or standing still without moving around.
• Wear compression garments. Compression stockings help increase blood flow from your legs.
• Put your feet up. When sitting, rest your feet on a stool as much as possible to help the blood in your legs flow back to your heart.
With safe and minimally invasive treatments so readily available, there is absolutely no reason to live with the pain and discomfort caused by varicose veins.
For more information about the Center for Vascular Care or to find a physician affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health call 888-742-7496 or visit www.princetonhcs.org.
Kenneth A. Goldman, M.D., R.V.T., F.A.C.S., is board certified in general surgery and vascular surgery. He is a registered vascular technologist, a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a member of the medical staff at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center.