By Walter W. Tom, MD, FACS
If you suffer from varicose veins, you may have to deal with unattractive, painful, and swollen legs on a daily basis—and if you’re often on the go, that’s not exactly ideal for living an active lifestyle. Varicose veins affect an increasing number of people across the country, including 40 percent of women and 20 percent of men. What’s worse is that if left untreated, these veins may cause more serious health concerns—including the breakdown of soft tissues that leads to lower leg and foot ulcers.
Cause and Prevention
The symptoms of this condition include enlarged blue or purple veins on the thigh and calf, often paired with unappealing spider veins. Medically speaking, varicose veins are a result of venous insufficiency, in which unhealthy veins ineffectively carry blood from the legs back to the heart. Stagnant blood collects in the veins, causing them to become enlarged.
There are a number of issues that cause varicose veins, including hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause, genetics, aging, prolonged sitting or standing, certain types of trauma, and previous blood clots. Although being overweight can put increased pressure on the veins, this is not a primary contributing factor—many thin people also suffer from this condition.
In terms of prevention, there are some steps that may reduce the risk for developing varicose veins. Weight management can help alleviate pressure on the veins and result in an overall healthier circulatory system. Regularly elevating the legs can assist in speeding the return of blood back to the heart through the vein system, while also decreasing pressure on the vein system throughout the body.
It’s also important to get an adequate amount of exercise, including walking, running, and other similar cardiovascular activities. The pump action of the muscle contraction of the calf and thigh muscles pushes blood upward from the lower body veins. Regular exercise is a good idea even if you currently have large and healthy veins because it can help prevent the development of varicose veins in the future. People who do yoga have also experienced positive results—the practice can help encourage healthy vein circulation and better overall health and wellness.
For many, varicose veins simply cause cosmetic concerns, but for others, this condition may result in swelling, discomfort, and aches and pains. If left untreated, varicose veins could lead to serious health complications like phlebitis, skin ulcers, and blood clots. Individuals with swollen, red, tender, or warm-to-the-touch veins should see a medical professional as soon as possible.
Addressing the problem
Physicians recommend a number of ways to help prevent or treat varicose veins, including supplements, therapies, and surgical removal. One common method for varicose vein management is compression therapy, which health insurers often require before allowing patients to undergo more aggressive treatments. Compression stockings promote healing by lessening pain, swelling, and bruising through steady pressure that assists the leg muscles and veins in moving blood more efficiently up the leg and to the heart. However, these stockings cannot treat the underlying cause of varicose veins: failed valves. Even with compression therapy, the condition may progress to the point where more advanced treatment is necessary.
Sclerotherapy was developed more than 75 years ago and, at present, is one of the most prevalent treatments for spider and varicose veins. During the treatment, a sclerosing agent is injected into the vein through a tiny needle. Treatment can last from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on the number of veins treated in a particular session. Upon injection, the solution replaces the blood in the vein, generating irritation to the walls of the vessel. The body then initiates the natural healing process, the vein begins to shrink, and eventually it disappears.
There is also surgical removal, known as “stripping.” This procedure is done under general anesthesia and usually requires a one- or two-day hospital stay and a three-week recovery period.
An alternative treatment, and one being used by increasing numbers of patients nationwide, is Endo Laser Vein System, or ELVeS—a gentle and quick solution to vein-related problems using laser technology. The procedure may be performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia, with minimal discomfort, short treatment time, effective results, and a rapid return to normal activities.
ELVeS focuses on incompetent leaky valves of the greater saphenous vein, which is responsible for most visible varicose veins. The system finds the greater saphenous vein by ultrasound, passing a laser fiber up to the vein at the highest point of reflux—where the leaky valve is located. Laser energy passes through the fiber to cause the vein walls to close, and other veins that come off the greater saphenous will either require no further treatment or be much more responsive to other therapies.
After the treatment is completed, blood will no longer flow through the enlarged veins, and the pooling of venous blood will cease. Legs receiving ELVeS typically appear smooth again, and the treatment has been well received by patients.
Not all hope is lost for people dealing with painful or unattractive varicose veins. Through the latest and most technologically advanced treatment options, there are new ways for people to obtain the look and feel they desire for their legs, while eliminating major pain and discomfort.
Supplements for Symptoms
Some supplements deliver an anticoagulant effect, which can be effective in preventing blood clots; others can help relieve aches and pains.
Horse chestnut extract is a homeopathic remedy that supports the health of veins and capillaries. It can both reduce faulty veins from leaking blood that contributes to clots and increase vein pressure to more effectively pump blood against gravity and up toward the brain. It has also been shown to decrease leg pain.
Fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help with blood vessel elasticity and may relieve or prevent problems. Fish oils have blood-thinning properties, too, meaning they improve circulation and could lessen the pain caused by varicose veins.
Ginkgo biloba is an herb from the leak of the ginkgo tree and a rich source of bioflavonoids. These natural compounds help strengthen blood vessels. In addition, when taken alongside vitamin C, the benefits of both bioflavonoids and the antioxidant seem to increase. You can also get bioflavonoids from dark-colored fruits, such as blueberries and cherries.
About the Author:
Walter W. Tom, MD, FACS, is a cosmetic and vascular surgeon, and the medical director and founder of Aesthetic Laser & Vein Centers. Visit him online at Laser