Varicose veins can affect more than just your appearance. These veins can cause serious discomfort. Some varicose veins put you at risk for a complication like a blood clot or open sores on your legs. However, besides home remedies for varicose veins, minimally invasive treatments can get rid of them. Treatment can also diminish symptoms like pain and fatigue and prevent complications.
Varicose veins are damaged veins. It develops when tiny, one-way valves inside our veins weaken. In healthy veins, these valves push blood in one direction thus back to our heart. When these valves weaken, some blood flows backward and accumulates in the vein. Extra blood in the vein puts pressure on the walls of the vein. With continual pressure, the vein walls weaken and bulge leading to varicose veins.
Some people have a higher risk of developing these veins. If blood relatives have them, you have a higher risk. Many people get them because they sit or stand for long periods most days of the week. These veins also become more common with age and during pregnancy. Varicose veins can also develop due to sunlight, hormonal changes, or an injury.
Varicose veins don’t always need treatment. If your varicose veins aren’t causing you discomfort, you may not need to have treatment. But you may need further treatments if your varicose veins are causing complications. Even with that, the type of treatment you need will depend on your general health, size, position and severity of your veins.
A vascular specialist (a doctor who specialises in veins) will be able to advise you about the most suitable form of treatment for you. But before we proceed to treatments, let’s have a look at some common causes below.
What Causes Varicose Veins?
Several factors increase your risk of getting varicose veins. Being aware of how lifestyle choices affect vein health can help you prevent varicose veins, especially if you adopt healthy habits in your younger years.
As you age, your veins become less elastic and flexible. This can cause blood to pool and clot. Older adults might also be more sedentary than they were during their younger years, which increases their odds of getting varicose veins.
If members of your family have had varicose veins, you are more likely to develop them. According to the National Institutes of Health, around half of all people with varicose veins have a family history of the condition. Becoming aware of your family medical history can help you stay healthier and make lifestyle choices to stay one step ahead.
3. Poor Circulation
Leg veins circulate blood in one direction — back to the heart. Along the way, the blood passes through a series of valves that open in a one-way direction. High blood pressure in the legs, called chronic venous hypertension, happens when vein valves become leaky or weak. Over time, blood accumulates behind the valves which causes the swelling, leg cramps, and discoloration of varicose veins. Crossing your legs does not cause varicose veins, nor does too-tight clothing. However, they may worsen the condition once you have them.
Being overweight or obese puts added pressure on your venous valves, which may lead to varicose veins. Sedentary lifestyle habits often accompany excess weight, and this further contributes to varicose veins. Varicose veins may not be visible in overweight or obese individuals because of excess fat.
5. Too Much Standing or Sitting
People who live a more sedentary lifestyle have a higher chance of getting varicose veins. Sitting for long periods of time doesn’t allow blood to circulate properly and it can pool in the legs.
Too much time on your feet can also cause varicose veins for a different reason.Because, it increases the pressure on veins as gravity draws the blood down your legs. Experts recommend standing up and moving around every 30 minutes if you are sedentary, or taking a break to sit down (and elevate your feet, if possible) every 30 minutes if you spend hours at a time standing up.
Many pregnant women develop varicose veins during pregnancy because the extra weight of the growing fetus puts pressure on the circulatory system, especially in the legs. Overall blood volume also increases during pregnancy, which can make veins stretch and dilate. For some women, multiple pregnancies make varicose veins worse. For others, varicose veins disappear after childbirth.
7 Popular Medical Treatments for Varicose Veins
A number of medical treatments are used to alleviate the discomfort and appearance of varicose veins, either together with or in place of natural remedies. We recommend trying natural remedies first and using more invasive techniques as a later resort.
Here are the most effective and commonly used treatments for varicose veins.
1. Endovenous Laser Therapy
This treatment involves having a catheter inserted into your vein and using an ultrasound scan to guide it into the correct position. A tiny laser is passed through the catheter and positioned at the top of your varicose vein.
The laser delivers short bursts of energy that heat up the vein and seal it closed. The laser is slowly pulled along the vein using the ultrasound scan to guide it, allowing the entire length of the vein to be closed.
Endovenous laser treatment is carried out under either local or general anaesthetic. After the procedure you may feel some tightness in your legs, and the affected areas may be bruised and painful. Nerve injury is also possible, but it’s usually only temporary.
Sclerotherapy is a non-surgical, outpatient medical treatment for varicose veins. Doctors will inject either a liquid solution or a foam into the varicose veins under ultrasound guidance.
These injected substances damage the internal lining of the vein, which causes the blood inside to clot so the body can reabsorb them. However, it’s possible to treat more than one vein in the same session. Sclerotherapy is usually carried out under local anaesthetic, where a painkilling medication will be used to numb the area being treated.
After sclerotherapy, your varicose veins should begin to fade after a few weeks as stronger veins take over the role of the damaged vein, which is no longer filled with blood. You may also require treatment more than once before the vein fades, and there’s a chance the vein may reappear.
3. Endoscopic Vein Surgery
Sometimes, surgery is a possible treatment, but use it as a last resort. You might need this operation only in an advanced case involving leg ulcers or if other techniques fail.
Your surgeon uses a thin video camera inserted in your leg to visualize and close varicose veins and then removes the veins through small incisions. In rare cases, varicose veins may carry the risk of blood clots, and your healthcare provider may recommend endoscopic vein surgery. Endoscopic surgery requires a few weeks of rest before you can resume your normal activities.
4. High Ligation And Vein Stripping
This procedure involves tying off a vein before it joins a deep vein and removing the vein through small incisions. This is an outpatient procedure for most people. Two small incisions are made. The first is made near your groin at the top of the varicose vein and is approximately 5cm (2in) in diameter.
The second, smaller cut is made further down your leg, usually around your knee. The top of the vein (near your groin) is tied up and sealed.A thin, flexible wire is passed through the bottom of the vein and then carefully pulled out and removed through the lower cut in your leg.
Removing the vein won’t adversely affect circulation in your leg because veins deeper in the leg take care of the larger volumes of blood. This procedure can cause pain, bruising and bleeding. More serious complications are rare, but could include nerve damage or deep vein thrombosis, where a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins of the body.
5. Ambulatory Phlebectomy
Your doctor removes smaller varicose veins through a series of tiny skin punctures. Only the parts of your leg that are being pricked are numbed in this outpatient procedure. Scarring is generally minimal.
6. Radiofrequency Ablation
Radio-frequency ablation involves heating the wall of your varicose vein using radio-frequency energy. The vein is accessed through a small cut made just above or below the knee. A narrow tube (catheter) is guided into the vein using an ultrasound scan. A probe is inserted into the catheter that sends out radio-frequency energy.
This heats the vein until its walls collapse, closing it and sealing it shut. Once the vein has been sealed shut, your blood will naturally be redirected to one of your healthy veins. Radiofrequency ablation may be carried out under local anaesthetic (you are awake) or general anaesthetic where you’re asleep. You may need to wear compression stockings for up to a week after having radiofrequency ablation.
7. Support Stockings
Support stockings, also called compression stockings. They are an easy intervention to use at home to help alleviate symptoms in the legs. Compression stockings improve circulation by increasing the pressure in the legs. These stockings come in a variety of styles and compression strengths. Your health care professional can recommend the proper pair for you. You can get them in drug stores and medical supply facilities.
Although varicose veins may not always be entirely preventable, there are various measures you can take to reduce your chances of developing them. This includes preventive tips such as:
- exercising regularly,
- maintain a healthy weight,
- avoid prolonged sitting or standing,
- avoid crossing your legs while seated,
- elevate your legs when resting, and
- avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing around your waist, groin and legs.