Unsightly and sometimes painful, varicose veins can be treated in many ways.
What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are visible under the skin, as they are blue or red, swollen, enlarged, and twisted. In general, they appear in the legs, but they can be in other parts of the body as well. If circulation is normal, veins have one-way valves that keep blood moving to the heart. If the valves are dysfunctional, there is a backup of blood, leading it to collect and cause varicose veins. Spider veins are a type of varicose vein that are smaller. Women are affected by varicose veins more than men (due to hormonal changes or birth control pills), and there may be no symptoms or pain resulting from them. Sometimes, though, varicose veins can lead to skin changes, leg swelling, blood clots, and pain. Other people more likely to have varicose veins include older people, the obese, those “born with defective valves” or who have a history of blood clots, pregnant women, people with a family history of these problems, and those who sit or stand for long time periods. Patients may feel itching, or have feet and ankle swelling, visibly swollen veins, or an achiness and heavy feeling in the legs. More severe symptoms include skin ulcers, thickening of the leg and ankle skin, dry and scaly skin, changes in color to the leg and ankles, calf or leg pain from standing or sitting, and leg swelling.1 Sometimes, varicose veins are a symptom of a more serious problem: deep vein thrombosis. With DVT, patients have “blockage in the deeper veins”. DVT requires treatment.2
There are ways to manage varicose veins through self-care at home. Patients can wear compression stockings and avoid standing or sitting for long periods. They should elevate the legs above the heart (for 15 minutes) a few times a day. Open wounds should be cared for, and moisturizing can help the dry or cracked skin. Patients should also lose weight and get more exercise, such as walking or swimming. Severe varicose veins may require more invasive treatments, such as laser therapy, sclerotherapy (the vein is injected with salt water or a chemical to harden it and make it disappear), ablation (using heat to destroy the vein), and vein stripping (cutting the leg near the vein, and then removing it from the body). Some patients may even undergo angioplasty and stenting, valve repair, or bypass.3 Venefit is a new procedure that is “less painful than the traditional…stripping the vein”. Vein stripping causes bruising and pain, but newer surgeries can be done as keyhole (endovenous) surgery, avoiding cuts to the groin and stripping out the vein. In the keyhole surgery, a catheter is inserted into a small knee incision and the vein is “sealed shut by delivering thermal energy”. Healthy veins can circulate the blood back to the heart normally since the diseased vein is closed.4 Preventing varicose veins from getting worse can help patients avoid surgery. If patients experience bleeding or bruising from varicose veins, they can apply ice and bandages, while elevating the leg. Those who develop a superficial blood clot may apply heat and take an NSAID medication, such as ibuprofen.5 There are many dietary options to help prevent varicose veins, such as eating a balanced diet with fiber, fruits, and vegetables, and consuming blackberries, cherries, ginger, onions, pineapple, and garlic. Patients should also avoid processed and junk food, alcohol, salt, and tobacco.6 There are some herbal remedies patients can try, including witch hazel, lavender, bilberry, hawthorn, rosemary, butcher’s broom, chamomile, and St. John’s Wort.7