Varicose veins are a common problem for many older adults.
Do you have bulging, bluish-purple blood vessels on your legs? If so, you’re not alone. More than 33 million people in the US between the ages of 40 and 80 suffer from varicose veins. The good news is that in most instances, they don’t require medical attention. In fact, most people are bothered more by the appearance of varicose veins, rather than the symptoms.
What causes varicose veins?
To answer that, you’ll first need a short lesson in physiology. The heart by itself isn’t strong enough to pump blood from your legs back to your heart. It depends on help from something called the skeletal-muscle pump. In short, as muscles in your legs move, they squeeze the veins running through them. These veins have one-way valves that close when blood starts to flow toward the heart. If these valves become damaged, blood may pool, causing both varicose and spider veins.
Can varicose veins be prevented?
There are a number of factors that may put you at risk for developing varicose veins, including getting older, pregnancy, trauma, standing or sitting for extended periods, family history, being female, and obesity.
While some risk factors are out of your control, there are still things you can do to lessen your chances of developing varicose veins. These include:
- maintaining a healthy weight,
- staying active and
- avoiding tobacco products.
And if you’re job requires you to sit or stand for extended periods, try to fit in stretching and exercising whenever possible. You may even want to buy some compression stockings.
When should I be concerned about varicose veins?
If you experience swelling/tightness, persistent leg cramping and throbbing, contact your doctor immediately. Though rare, deep vein thrombosis is extremely dangerous as a blood clot could break off and potentially travel to your lungs. Another condition that requires immediate medical attention is thrombophlebitis, when the superficial veins of the leg become red, swollen and painful. Finally, bleeding varicose veins and skin ulcers need prompt attention.
What is the treatment for varicose veins?
If varicose veins make your legs feel heavy and achy, try wearing compression stockings. Or, when possible, keep your legs elevated above your heart. This helps improve circulation. It’s also beneficial to decrease your sodium intake and exercise daily. If these things don’t work, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your physician.
In some cases, surgery may be needed to relieve symptoms or prevent complications. Endovenous ablation is a minimally-invasive technique commonly used to treat varicose veins. A small incision is made, and then a catheter is threaded through the enlarged vein. The catheter has a tool that sends energy to close the vein. Most of the time this is an outpatient procedure and the patient has minimal recovery time.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Provided By: Michael McAndrew, MD, Highpoint Health Vascular Surgeon