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What are Varicose Veins?

Varicose veins can affect much more than appearance. Treatment at home and your doctor's office can help.

Varicose veins are swollen or dilated veins that appear as soft, bluish lumps just under the skin. They occur most often in the legs. Besides causing many people to feel self-conscious about their appearance, they may cause other problems, including:
  • Aching or a feeling of heaviness in the legs.
  • Poor circulation to the lower legs, which can lead to dry, itchy, scaly or darkened skin above the ankles that's easily injured and infected.
  • An increased risk of blood clots and poor circulation throughout the legs.
  • Persistent pain, redness, warmth or swelling.
  • In rare cases, a blood clot in the leg may break loose and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. This is a medical emergency.

What goes wrong

Arteries carry blood from the heart to the organs and veins carry the blood back to the heart.

To complete this cycle, blood flow has to fight gravity sometimes, especially while returning from the legs to the heart. To aid this process, the veins in the legs have several one-way valves. These valves open as the blood moves upward and then close, preventing the blood from flowing back down.

When a valve doesn't work properly, blood flows backward, building up against the next lowest valve. The extra weight and volume weakens this valve until it, too, stops working properly. This continues to happen until all of the valves in a section of the vein break down. The vein then bulges under the weight and pressure of the extra blood.

Who do they happen to?

Varicose veins develop in up to 33 percent of women and 20 percent of men, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Risk factors include:

  • Heredity. This is the greatest risk factor for varicose veins.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Weight gain.
  • Jobs that require long periods of standing or heavy lifting.
  • Older age.
  • Leg injury.

Can they be prevented?

The AAFP offers this advice for reducing your risk of varicose veins:

  • Avoid standing for long periods of time.
  • Don't wear tight knee socks, garters, girdles or pantyhose.
  • Try not to sit with your legs crossed.
  • Take short walks during your workday or even wiggle your toes frequently. Either will move the muscles in your legs and help pump blood upward.

What about treatment?

To reduce the pain, swelling and complications of varicose veins, it may help to:

  • Raise the legs when sitting.
  • Wear custom-fitted support stockings.
  • Lose weight if you're overweight.
  • Exercise regularly.

A doctor may treat varicose veins using:

  • Vein stripping, surgery using a special instrument to remove part of a varicose vein.
  • Ligation, surgery that ties a varicose vein closed.
  • Ambulatory phlebectomy, surgery that uses tiny incisions to remove varicose veins.
  • Radiofrequency occlusion, a procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to heat a vein from the inside out, causing the vein to collapse and seal shut.
  • Sclerotherapy, a procedure that uses a medication that is injected directly into the varicose vein. The medication irritates the vein's lining, causing the vein to collapse.

The right treatment depends on several factors, such as the size, type and number of veins being treated. In most cases people can go home the same day of the procedure.

Though individual veins can be treated, you'll still be prone to developing more varicose veins.

If you're interested in vein removal, contact Jackson Clinic Vascular Surgery at 334-293-8922 to schedule a consultation.
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