What Are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins form in blood vessels that return blood to the heart from the legs, which is why they mainly occur in the legs. They have the appearance of red or blue lines showing up on the skin’s surface, and in more severe cases, will actually bulge through the skin.
This mainly occurs close to the skin’s surface. The veins that are responsible for most of the blood return are situated deeper in the legs. What this means, is that the veins that become varicose are typically extras that are not really needed, so usually, they can be destroyed or removed without jeopardizing circulation.
Spider veins are a minor form of varicose veins, usually showing up under the skin but not bulging. They normally show up either red or blue, depending if the blood is oxygenated or not. They usually appear in the legs, but can also show in the face. Their appearance is worsened by the collagen breakdown that comes from sun exposure.
What Causes Varicose Veins?
Their exact cause is not known, but some trends have been observed. These vein disorders mainly seem to occur from the valves that keep blood from flowing back into the legs becoming weak. This puts stress on the veins causing them to stretch out. They eventually become convoluted and bulge out of the skin. The blood can run down into the legs and ankles, causing them to feel “heavy” with all that extra blood weighing them down.
Vein disorders occur more in women than in men. Pregnant women have a high tendency to develop varicose veins. The increase of blood flow from pregnancy causes the veins to inflate. Pregnancy related varicose veins usually deflate after the pregnancy is over, but repeated pregnancies can bring them back permanently.
Menopause is also connected to vein disorders, as well as taking birth control pills, estrogen and progesterone.
Varicose veins occur more in older people, and obesity is also a big risk factor.
What Problems Are Caused By Varicose Veins?
These diseased veins are mainly responsible for discomfort and unsightliness; they aren’t particularly dangerous. However, they should be treated before they become severe.
They can cause problems such as painful cramping or throbbing, which usually occurs at night.
They also can cut off circulation to the skin, causing itchy rashes and painful ulcers.
Sometimes, bulging veins near the surface of the skin will burst and cause bleeding. This isn’t a serious problem by itself, but it should be treated before it happens repeatedly.
How Are Varicose Veins Treated?
Medical research has come up with various treatment methods which have evolved significantly over the years. Modern treatments are usually fast and easy with little discomfort compared to older methods.
Older methods included stripping, where a flexible metal rod was pulled along the inside of a vein between 2 incisions. an end cap would then be attached to the end of the metal rod and it would be pulled back through, taking the whole vein out through the first incision.
There is a more modern method of inserting a catheter into the vein and firing radio waves. These produce heat, which causes the collagen to break down, collapse, and reabsorb. The blood is pressed out of the vein. This will cause temporary bruising and it takes about 8 weeks for the vein to go away completely.
This same effect can be accomplished with lasers being fired into the vein and collapsing it.
The catheter and laser methods, have a waiting period where the patient has to wait for the vein to reabsorb. As previously mentioned, this takes about 8 weeks. Another older treatment that is still used today, is ambulatory phlebectomy, which is similar to stripping. The vein is simply pulled out with a hook device, which gives instant results since the vein is removed right then. Some people choose this so that they don’t have to wait.
Another treatment, foam sclerotherapy, involves injecting a foamy detergent into the vein which causes it to swell up and block itself off. This is best used on spider veins, as more developed bulging veins may require one of the previously mentioned treatments.
All of these methods remove veins, so that the real blood return veins that sit deeper will take back over the blood flow.