Varicose veins refer to enlarged or swollen veins. The veins of any part of the body can become enlarged, though the veins of the legs are found to be more commonly affected by this condition. The veins of the leg contain one-way valves that maintain the flow of blood to the heart against the force of gravity, and prevent its back flow.
Sometimes, these valves can become weak and fail to prevent the backward flow of blood, which can cause blood to pool inside the veins. This in turn, can cause the enlargement of the veins, and make them appear bluish, swollen, and twisted. For some individuals, varicose veins may be quite harmless apart from being a cosmetic concern, while for others, they can cause pain and discomfort, especially while walking or standing for a long time.
Varicose Vein Causes
Veins basically depend on the surrounding muscles and valves to maintain the flow of blood to the heart. The valves present in the veins are basically one-way valves, which help prevent the reverse flow of blood. Several factors can damage these valves, and thereby impede the circulation of blood.
Generally, a continuous increase in blood pressure dilates the vein, due to which the valves may fail to carry out their normal functions properly. This can cause blood to accumulate inside the veins, and the consequent swelling and pain. This condition more commonly affects the superficial veins than the deep ones.
Heredity, age, obesity, height, posture, and hormonal fluctuations are the major factors that can affect the development of varicose veins. This condition can be caused by factors that put excess pressure on the legs, such as obesity, weightlifting, standing or sitting for a long time, and wearing tight-fitting clothes. Women are more likely to develop this condition during pregnancy and after menopause due to hormonal fluctuations.
Varicose Vein Symptoms
Veins that become varicose can appear as swollen blue blood vessels lying beneath the skin, especially in the legs and the feet. They can become very tender and painful, and make both walking and standing quite uncomfortable. Other symptoms that can accompany this condition are, ankle swelling, heavy and sore legs, spider veins, and restless leg syndrome.
Sometimes, one may also experience itching. Additionally, the skin of the affected area can become dry and red. Skin ulcers can also develop, along with some white patches on the ankles that can look like scars. Sometimes, the veins may not become visible, but can cause pain and swelling in the legs. This can indicate that varicose veins are located deeper inside the leg.
Varicose Vein Treatment
Treatment is generally required for painful varicose vein. For mild discomfort caused by superficial varicose veins, elastic support stockings can be used, while over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkillers like aspirin can be used for painful varicose veins.
Surgery is regarded as the most effective treatment for this condition, though a number of non-surgical treatment options are also available. Such non-surgical treatment options include, sclerotherapy, exercises, laser surgery, and radiofrequency ablation. In sclerotherapy, a chemical is injected into the vein, which causes the vein to shrink. But this treatment is more effective for the small veins, and it cannot completely alleviate the pain.
In laser treatment, a thin tube is inserted into the vein, and then the vein is heated with a laser probe. The application of heat helps close off the vein permanently. This process is known as endovenous laser treatment. On the other hand, in radiofrequency ablation, radiofrequency energy is delivered to the vein through a thin tube inserted into it. Like laser, the application of radiofrequency energy helps close off the vein.
But if the condition is quite severe, then surgery may be required to remove the vein from the body, which is known as stripping and ligation. The entire process can be quite painful, and the patient may need considerable time to recover completely. Therefore, this method is generally employed for large varicose veins.
Sometimes, regular physical activity can also play an important role in preventing this condition. Exercises help maintain an ideal body weight, and strengthen the muscles of the legs. If your job requires you to stand or sit for a long time, then take small breaks in between to stretch your legs, and keep them raised above the level of heart for a few minutes. This can help improve blood circulation. It is also important to lower the consumption of fatty foods, salt, and sugar, and avoid wearing tight-fitting clothes and high heel shoes, in order to prevent this condition. In addition to these, drink plenty of water, quit smoking, take adequate vitamin C and E, and avoid sitting for a long time with your legs crossed at the knee.
A healthy lifestyle can help reduce the pain associated with varicose veins, and prevent certain complications, like ulceration, dermatitis, and the development of blood clots within the affected veins. But if the condition is causing severe pain and discomfort, then medical intervention can be required. In this regard, an experienced physician can provide the required guidance about the various treatment options available for this condition.