What are Varicose Veins and are they Dangerous?

Human varicose veins on the legs of woman

Varicose veins are swollen and twisted veins that are highly noticeable beneath the skin1. In most cases, they have a blue or purplish color to them. Varicose veins can affect any part of the body, but they most commonly affect the leg and feet area1. Though the body’s system of veins is complex, the simple function of them is simply to return deoxygenated blood from the organs of the body back to the heart and lungs2.

Understanding Varicose Veins

In most cases, veins perform as expected; but just like anything else, they can become diseased and damaged. Varicose veins are a direct effect of damaged valves and/or blocked veins1. As mentioned earlier, veins carry blood back to the heart2. They achieve this through the function of a series of one-way valves1. As these valves begin to weaken and fail, the direct result is a backward flow of blood. The veins may also become blocked or occluded, restricting the flow of blood back to the heart. This backward flow and/or blockage causes an increase in the pressure in the veins (venous hypertension). This increased blood pressure results in the bulging or swelling of the veins in this area, and since the blood is deoxygenated, the veins have a bluish or purplish color.

There are many theories behind what actually causes the onset of varicose veins. Oftentimes, it happens as people age and, just as other functions and systems of the body begin to weaken, so does the function of the venous valves and elasticity in the veins. However, other factors such as pregnancy, genetics and even smoking and obesity can play a part behind the cause of varicose veins1.

Dangers and Treatment Options

For most people, besides being self-conscious about the appearance of the varicose veins, they will have no additional symptoms or consequences to their health3. However, others may not be as lucky, and because there are dangerous complications involved with them, it is important to be able to recognize varicose veins. Serious problems include blood clots or venous disease, which is a disease of the veins. The increased swelling, caused by varicose veins can also bring pain in some individuals3.

There are several treatment options depending on the severity and cause of the varicose veins. For less severe cases, wearing compression stockings, frequent elevation of the legs and living a healthy lifestyle of exercise, weight-control and not smoking will be enough to keep this disease in check. However, for those with more severe disease, other treatment options are available1.

It is important to understand the cause of the varicose veins in order to get the proper treatment. The patient should be examined with a variety of imaging technologies to determine the extent of the disease. A duplex ultrasound can be used to evaluate the blood flow and determine if the problems are only associated with superficial veins or exist in the deep venous system.

If superficial, and for those feeling self-conscious about the way their veins look, there are treatments ranging from sclerotheraoy1 (a solution is injected in to the veins) to electrical energy or laser treatments that may eliminate the veins in a procedure called ablation. However, if there is deep venous disease, such as obstruction or occlusion, and the varicose veins are due to this disorder, other treatments may be first considered. The blockage can be treated in a minimally invasive procedure where the blockage is cleared and a stent may be placed to support the vein wall over time. A stent is a small metal mesh tube used to keep veins open. Physicians are finding venous stenting to be another ideal first-line treatment for patients with venous disease with an underlying obstructive component4.

As with anything else, it is best to consult a doctor to decide the severity of your varicose veins and the best treatment options.

 

References:

1 – Healthwise. Skin Problems and Treatment Health Center: Varicose Veins Treatment Overview. Webmd. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/varicose-veins-topic-overview. Published August 17, 2012. Accessed February 23, 2015.

2 – Bhimji Shabir, Smookler Amy, Aloi Mari. eMedicine Health: Varicose Veins. http://www.emedicinehealth.com/varicose_veins/article_em.htm. Published November 6, 2014. Accessed February 22, 2015.

3 – Depra, Dianne. FDA Approves permanent Varicose Vein Treatment VenaSeal: How It Works. http://www.techtimes.com/articles/34490/20150222/fda-approves-permanent-varicose-vein-treatment-venaseal-how-it-works.htm. Published February 22, 2015. Accessed February 23, 2015.

4 – Mussa, FF, Peden EK, Zhou W, Lin PH, Lumsden AB, Bush RL. Iliac vein stenting for chronic venous insufficiency. Tex Heart Inst J 2007;34:60-6. Accessed February 27, 2015.

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