Varicose veins are enlarged, bulging, twisted superficial veins, commonly found in the calves and thighs but also seen in other parts of the body (i.e. vaginal varicose veins).
What causes varicose veins?
Leg veins contain a set of valves that allow blood to flow in one direction - from the feet to the heart. However, as a result of any number of reasons (hormonal influences, prior episodes of blood clots in the leg veins, a blockage in the pelvic veins or gravity), this flow is impeded. The valves become "incompetent," allowing blood to flow in a reverse direction towards the feet. Blood begins to pool in the legs. The venous pressure in the legs rises and the veins distend or get larger (become "varicose") to accommodate the higher pressures.
Do varicose veins cause symptoms?
Besides their obvious unsightly appearance, varicose veins can result in symptoms that limit your activities of daily life. Because of blood pooling in the veins, there is insufficient clearance of fluids from the legs and impaired oxygen delivery to the skin and tissues beneath the skin. As a result, you may suffer from varicose veins pain in the calves or thighs, particularly after periods of prolonged standing. Your ankles may swell and your legs may feel heavy and fatigued. Leg cramps and restless legs in the evenings are not uncommon, and a reddish scaly skin rash may appear on the lower leg. In more advanced stages, an ulcer may form on the inner surface of the calf and lower ankle.
How are varicose veins treated?
Varicose veins can be treated conservatively or using minimally invasive therapy. Conservative treatment in symptomatic patients requires the use of graduated compression stockings. These are specialized stockings that apply high pressure to the feet and ankles and less pressure to the knees and thighs. In doing so, they increase the return of blood to the heart and prevent the pooling of blood in the veins of the feet and legs. Compression stockings for varicose veins will improve symptoms and slow the progression of disease but will not improve the appearance of the leg.
For a better cosmetic result, and more lasting improvement of symptoms, the board-certified interventional radiologists at UR Vein Center offer a range of minimally invasive therapies, including: endovenous laser treatment, ambulatory phlebectomy and sclerotherapy.