Millions of people have varicose veins - swollen, bluish veins in the legs. It is a condition that often runs in families or develops as a result of pregnancy.
Veins carry blood from the body's tissues back to the heart. In the legs, healthy veins are equipped with special one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing back "downhill." Varicose veins have incompetent valves - valves that do not completely close. Consequently, blood tends to pool in the legs and feet, producing a network of varicose veins.
In addition to being a cosmetic problem, varicose veins can also cause pain and itching in the legs. Treatment is provided for either cosmetic or medical reasons and may include surgery, support hose, elevating the legs or chemical injections.
The Anatomy of Varicose Veins Veins can be either superficial or deep. Superficial veins are near the skin, have thin walls and one-way valves, and are surrounded by soft tissue. Deep veins course through muscle, where muscular action helps propel blood "uphill" to the heart. Only superficial veins that have incompetent valves and aren't supported by muscles can become varicose veins.
Reasons for Treatment Cosmetic. Some people seek treatment to improve the appearance of their legs. Comfort. Treatment may be needed to relieve pain, itching and discomfort. Medical. Varicose veins may lead to skin ulcers, inflamed veins and blood clotting.
Surgical Treatment: Vein Removal There are two types of surgery for varicose veins - "stripping" and excision. Surgery is usually performed in a hospital under anaesthesia. Ask your doctor about the type of surgery that is best for you, and about any preparations you will need to make beforehand.
Stripping. Your surgeon may elect to remove the entire varicose vein in a procedure called "stripping." This technique usually requires only a few incisions.
Excision. When varicose veins are extensive or severely twisted, individual vein segments may have to be removed (excised). Multiple incisions are necessary.
After Surgery You may go home on the day of surgery or remain in the hospital for a day or two. Your legs may be bandaged and you may have temporary bruising. Elevate your legs as directed. Prolonged sitting or standing may cause your legs to swell.
Medical Treatment Support Support hose are special elastic stockings that help prevent pooling of blood in the lower legs. They work by applying gentle pressure on the varicose veins pushing blood "uphill" to the heart.
Elevation Keeping the feet elevated above heart level can help relieve discomfort of varicose veins by allowing blood to drain from the lower legs. Put several pillows under your legs when lying down.
Sclerotherpy Sometimes varicose veins can be treated with sclerotherapy. This technique injects a chemical agent directly into the damaged veins, sealing them off. Sclerotherapy is usually an office procedure.
After Treatment Treatment for varicose veins, whether for cosmetic, comfort or medical reasons, is usually successful However, in some cases, further treatment may be recommended. Ask your doctor when you can resume normal activities.