Do you have varicose veins? If so, here is what you can do about it

Do you suffer from veins that protrude from your legs? This is how you’ll know if it’s an aesthetic problem or one which needs medical attention.

 Varicose veins (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Varicose veins
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Veins which appear to prominently bulge from your legs, which are called varicose veins, can be a real aesthetic nuisance. However, in some cases it’s a medical problem that can affect your quality of life. Why does this happen and what treatment is recommended? An expert explains.

A peek into our body’s venous system shows a whole network of veins that branch off and continuously carry blood and other materials to supply the body with its needs. Unlike arteries that divert blood from the heart toward various tissues in the body, the job of the veins is to return filtered blood to the heart.

The venous system is divided into two parts: surface veins (called varicose veins) that are located above the muscle layer, and deep veins that are located between the muscles and the bones.

The natural contraction action that takes place in the muscles is what allows our blood to flow upwards from any position we’re in - even when standing. What prevents the blood from coming back down are the valves. When these don’t work properly, a problem can start in the venous system

Genetics, weight gain and immobility

Why do vein problems affect only some people?  

Like many areas related to our health, genetics plays a significant role. So, if your relatives unfortunately have varicose veins, you have a good chance of developing this condition.

Also, other factors can cause the problem, such as being overweight. The explanation for this is that a large amount of fat in the abdominal cavity makes it difficult for the blood to resist gravity and rise up towards the heart. Also, people who engage in occupations that involve prolonged standing, such as flight attendants or barbers, are more likely to suffer from the problem, and so are people who are sedentary. 

The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy might cause the vein walls to relax, which will make the veins in the legs pop out; some will disappear after birth. The problem may also be aggravated as the uterus grows and the weight of the baby causes blood to pool in the veins.

When should a vein problem be treated for medical reasons?

The problem goes from aesthetic to medical when there are symptoms that affect someone’s quality of life. In contrast to small capillaries that appear under the skin surface and just look bad, when blood pools in the lower part of the legs this can cause problems like fatigue, swelling, changes in color/appearance of the legs and chronic pain. These problems occur five times more in women than men.

To treat the vein problem, it’s important to diagnose its origin, that is to locate the source of blood coagulation. The diagnosis is made by an ultrasound Doppler test that allows the detection of diseased veins. Once a problematic vein is detected, a biological adhesive that closes the vein is injected. Even techniques such as radio waves or lasers can help by burning off the problematic part and closing it. 

Therapeutic solutions

It’s crucial to understand that treatment focuses on closing the problematic veins, but it doesn’t resolve or repair the damaged valves. The treatment is a solution to a particular problem and doesn’t solve problems in veins that might occur in the future, since the source of the problem is as stated in the valves and not in the veins themselves. The patient is sedated under local anesthesia. But there is no need to worry. Since there are many veins in the body, there is no fear of impairing the desired function of the venous system due to the procedure.

This surgical solution isn’t suitable for heart patients, lung patients or people over the age of 75. 

In these cases it’s recommended to use elastic stockings, which put pressure on the veins and prevent them from swelling, which relieves the pain when they’re worn. Remember, using compression socks doesn’t solve the problem, but only alleviates its symptoms.

Vein problems are caused as a result of damage to the valves, which causes blood to accumulate. This condition is defined as a medical problem when it causes swelling, pain or a change in the color of the leg. Today, venous disease can be treated by blocking the problematic vein by injecting biological glue when a patient is sedated with a local anesthetic.

Dr. Reina Antonio is a vascular specialist. This article was written in cooperation with Zap Doctors and first appeared on the Walla! website.