Varicose Veins Demystified
Vein Reflux Disease & Venous Insufficiency
Millions are bothered by varicose and spider veins – a condition that affects up to 25% of all women and 18% of all men.
Unsightly and sometimes painful, the condition is the result of vein reflux disease, a disorder that causes varicose veins (large grape-like veins that bulge below the skin’s surface) and spider veins (clusters of veins that resemble a spider web). It occurs when the valve on the vein meant to prevent blood from flowing backwards as it travels to the heart malfunctions, allowing blood to pool and enlarge the vein rather than flow freely.
Some people are more likely than others to develop varicose veins or spider veins. Risk factors to be aware of include:
- Heredity: If you mother had varicose or spider veins, then chances are good you will develop them too.
- Prolonged Standing: Gravity affects the volume and pressure of blood in the lower limbs.
- Gender: Women are more likely to develop vein reflux disease, partly as a result of the affect female hormones have on the structure of vein walls.
- Pregnancy: An increase in blood pressure during pregnancy can place extra pressure and stress on the walls of the vein.
- Age: Tissue loses elasticity as we age, resulting in weakened vein walls and valves.
- Obesity: A substantial weight gain can increase blood pressure and stress on vein walls.
The good news is that vein removal under general anesthesia is no longer the only treatment option. Today, non-invasive techniques used to reduce or eliminate spider and varicose veins include a revolutionary new laser treatment called EndoVenous Laser Therapy (EVLT) and sclerotherapy, a procedure involving the injection of a solution that causes veins to collapse from view.
Both procedures have proven successful in helping patients like you live a life free of varicose and spider veins.
Diagnosis: Why continue to suffer in silence?
Proper treatment of spider and varicose veins requires a thorough vein assessment. Tools such as Doppler ultrasounds and duplex scanners are often used. A Doppler ultrasound measures changes in blood flow through your veins. Remember that poorly functioning valves lead to spider and varicose veins. By placing the ultrasound probe on a vein and squeezing below that point, the blood flow can be heard. Using this technique, a trained professional can distinguish between healthy and unhealthy valves, making it possible to target treatment to the exact place where things start to go wrong and produce spider or varicose veins.
As Doppler ultrasounds are the ears to vein specialists (“phlebologists”), duplex scanners are the eyes. They actually allow your doctor to see veins below the skin surface. The size of a vein alone to a trained eye can indicate malfunctioning valves.
Once you have had a proper vein assessment, a treatment plan can be decided on. Luckily, treatment of spider and varicose veins is quite effective using a range of techniques.
The most conservative treatment, simple exercise and maintenance of a healthy weight, helps in dealing with varicose vein disease. Exercising helps to strengthen muscles and indirectly improves circulation by making the calf-muscle pump work more efficiently in returning blood to the heart. Stronger muscles give more support to the veins they surround. With healthy weight maintenance less strain is placed on the leg veins, making them less likely to become varicosed.
Compression stockings are the next step in treating varicose vein disease. They are especially effective in relieving vein symptoms such as aching, heaviness, and leg fatigue. Compression has been used to treat varicose vein disease for thousands of years. By providing external support to the veins compression prevents further progression of varicose vein disease.
Compression stockings play an important role in pregnancy. If you are concerned about varicose vein development in pregnancy you should ask your doctor for a prescription for compression pantyhose or thigh-high stockings providing a pressure of 20-30 mmHg for support. The pantyhose are likely more comfortable as the thigh-high stockings tend to roll at the top. These should be worn as soon as you know you are pregnant. Your body is already circulating higher levels of female hormones, which are hard on your veins and can lead to spider or varicose veins. Women who are pregnant with their second child or more, or women with a personal history of varicose veins should be fitted with stronger pantyhose in the range of 30-40 mmHg. Knee-high stockings of 20-30 mmHg are better than nothing if the thigh-high version or pantyhose are unbearable. If you wear compression stockings in pregnancy your legs will feel more comfortable and you will experience less swelling and varicose vein development.
Besides being extremely useful in treating uncomfortable spider or varicose veins, compression is an invaluable partner to the mainstay of varicose vein disease treatment – sclerotherapy. Depending on the severity of venous disease, EndoVenous Laser Treatment, or EVLT, is an extremely effective treatment for severely varicosed veins – and an alternative to surgery.
For a safe and private assessment of your varicose veins, consult an expert, female, medical doctor at Lakeshore Vein & Aesthetics Clinic, located in Kelowna, BC, Canada.