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Avoiding and Treating Varicose Veins

You might be self-conscious about the way your varicose veins look, but they are more than a cosmetic issue. The twisted, enlarged blood vessels found just under the surface of the skin, usually in your legs or feet, can lead to serious health problems if left untreated for long periods of time.

Varicose veins are often found in women or men with a history of standing or sitting for long periods of time, and they can be painful or itchy. They’re more common in women, particularly in those who have had a pregnancy, because of hormonal changes that put pressure on blood vessels.

Varicose veins are caused when damage is done to the small valves that keep blood flowing through your body and back to your heart. As those valves begin to malfunction, it becomes more difficult for blood to overcome gravity during the trip from your legs to your heart. Over time, this puts more pressure on those valves, which may eventually fail, allowing blood to leak downward into your legs throughout the day. This causes some veins to overload and bloat.

In its early stages, the condition may be seen as spider veins – a superficial version that’s more of a cosmetic issue. But as the condition progresses, the veins become much more prominent.

Varicose Vein Risk Factors

There’s no one thing that causes varicose veins. Instead, it’s a combination of factors. Those include:

  • Age: Over time, vein walls and valves lose elasticity and stiffen.
  • Genetics: If your parents, siblings and other family members have them, then you are likely at higher risk.
  • Weight: Obesity can cause increased pressure on the veins in your legs.
  • Lifestyle: Lack of exercise and standing or sitting for long periods increases risk.
  • Gender: Female hormones can make vein walls more susceptible to stretching. Hormone changes can also be affected by pregnancy, birth control pills and menopause.
  • Other factors: Some health conditions, including heart failure, kidney failure, severe constipation and certain tumors, can play a role.

Preventing Varicose Veins

One of the easiest ways to stop varicose veins from developing is by wearing compression socks. These should be worn by anyone working in a field that requires them to stand all day, including barbers, cashiers, nurses and other healthcare providers.

Compression socks, which come in different grades, support your veins by keeping them from stretching. A good preventive starting point is a knee-high sock rated at 15-20mm of pressure. If you’ve already developed varicose veins, you should consider a medical-grade sock, rated at 20-30mm of pressure.

The socks, which can be purchased online or at medical supply stores, come in a wide range of colors and styles. They’re easily incorporated into your wardrobe, so no one will know you’re wearing compression socks.

Other prevention strategies include exercise, massage to stimulate blood flow in your legs, keeping your legs elevated if sitting for long periods, losing weight and eating foods lower in salt and higher in potassium.

Treating Varicose Veins

Don’t ignore your varicose veins. They can grow worse over time, and in severe cases can lead to bleeding from the veins, skin damage and ulcers on your legs.

The first option for treatment is the same as the first option for prevention – compression socks. But if the condition continues to get worse – or if you want to deal with cosmetic appearance of the unsightly veins – there are several treatment options available. Those include:

  • Injection therapy (sclerotherapy): A substance is injected into the faulty vein, causing its walls to stick together, effectively closing it down. Your body will reroute blood flow to healthier vessels.
  • Vein surgery: In some instances, your doctor may suggest removing the troubled vein. This is accomplished using micro incisions, with the affected vessel being tied off to force blood to reroute.
  • Endovenous thermal ablation: This treatment may be recommended if you have larger varicose veins. Here, your doctor will insert a tiny micro catheter into the vein, where it will use a radiofrequency signal to seal it off.

Fortunately, each of these treatments is minimally invasive, usually requiring an hour or less in your doctor’s office. Both the pain and side effects are minimal.

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