Varicose veins are more than just a cosmetic problem. These pesky, dilated veins that look like blue worms can cause physical symptoms such as achiness and leg fatigue. If you have them, you’re not alone. Over half of all women and up to one in four men have varicosities, and they become more common with age. Needless to say, most people with this issue are looking for ways to eliminate varicose veins or at least make them less obvious.
What Causes Them?
Varicose veins are nothing more than dilated, swollen veins. They appear when valves within the vein that keep the blood flowing in one direction only are damaged. Healthy veins in the lower extremities carry blood back to the heart. When the valves are damaged and aren’t working properly, blood pools in the veins and legs. The veins can become quite swollen and easily visible on the surface of the skin.
Genetics play a role in who gets varicose veins. Other factors that increase the risk are pregnancy, excess weight or obesity and injury to the veins in the lower extremities. People who stand for prolonged periods of time are also more susceptible to varicosities. Contrary to popular belief, crossing your legs doesn’t cause them. Varicose veins are also associated with spider veins, superficial, dilated veins that look like a spider’s web on the surface of the skin.
Wearing support can ease the achiness of varicose veins and may help to prevent varicose veins from forming in the first place, but they won’t cure them. Losing weight and exercising helps to reduce the pooling of blood in the extremities and improve the symptoms. Unfortunately, these measures won’t eliminate varicosities that are already established.
One of the most common treatments for varicose veins is sclerotherapy. This procedure is performed in a doctor’s office without anesthesia. It involves injecting a chemical into the dilated veins. This causes the vein to seal shut and become smaller. Gradually, the varicosities become less visible. More than one treatment over a period of several weeks may be necessary, and the procedure can cause some temporary bruising and inflammation.
Another treatment for varicose veins is laser surgery. This works well for small varicosities in people with lighter skin but is usually ineffective for larger ones. Up to five treatments may be necessary, and there can be some redness, swelling and bruising after the procedure.
In severe cases, surgery may be the only option. Surgery to treat varicosities has advanced in recent years. Until recently, the only option was to tie off the veins and remove them by making small incisions in the skin. Now, doctors can insert a catheter and heat up the vein using radio waves. This causes the vein to collapse and disappear over several months.
Vitamin K and creams containing vitamin K can help to strengthen the walls of veins so that they’re less likely to leak. This can improve the appearance of spider veins and may be effective for small varicosities. It’s also important to wear a sunscreen since sun exposure can break down collagen and make spider veins worse.
The Bottom Line?
Varicose veins aren’t pretty, and they can be uncomfortable too. Fortunately, there are treatments that can help remedy them in most cases.