Varicose Veins: More Than a Cosmetic Concern

Trouble may be lurking in those varicose veins

Varicose Veins: More Than a Cosmetic Concern

Varicose veins might appear to be a cosmetic issue, but they can cause problems beyond just making your legs look unattractive. Even if you aren’t bothered by your varicose veins, you should be aware of some problems that can occur if you ignore them too long.

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There are several different options for treatment of troublesome varicose veins, ranging from minimally invasive heat treatments to traditional ligation. Ask your doctor which is best for you.

Causes of varicose veins

Your veins have valves that keep the blood flowing and prevent blood from backing up or pooling in one place. When these valves fail, blood pools and increases pressure on the vessel walls, causing the blood vessels to distort and balloon out. Large or numerous varicose veins can make your legs feel heavy and ache.

In addition to genetic predisposition, being overweight or standing for many hours at a time increases your risk for developing varicose veins. Varicose veins can be a side effect of pregnancy as well.

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Problems that can occur

  • Malfunctioning valves in your veins allow the blood to stagnate. This can spell trouble because when blood pools, it can clot. “I use the analogy of a running stream versus a stagnant pond,” says Cleveland Clinic vascular surgeon George Anton, MD. “This can cause phlebitis, a superficial clot that can be painful, but usually not life threatening.”
  • Poor circulation associated with varicose veins can result in clot formations in deeper veins. If these clots break off, they can travel to the lung and cause serious problems (such as pulmonary embolism).
  • Eventually, blood pooling or stagnating in the blood vessels can also cause ulcers and sores to develop. Venous stasis ulcers, or open sores, form when drainage of fluid is inadequate.
  • When extensive varicose veins hinder the circulation in your legs, you can develop edema, or swelling caused by resulting fluid buildup. When this condition exists, you are more at risk for fungal and bacterial infections of the surrounding tissue and area.
  • Finally, when veins become distended with blood and weakened from chronic pressure on them, they can hemorrhage, or burst, and cause bleeding.

Treatment options

Wearing compression-type stockings or socks helps avoid discomfort and prevent varicose vein symptoms from developing or worsening. There are other options as well.

Dr. Anton states, “There are three methods to decrease venous pressure: Leg elevation when appropriate, pumping your feet or exercise, or external compression with stockings. Should the conservative measures fail, you should seek consultation for further treatments.”

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