Research shows approximately fifty percent of the female population has varicose veins. However, this does not mean men do not have to deal with them sometimes as well. The embarrassing condition can prove tricky, especially during the warmer months when less clothing is worn. One day varicose veins are not there, and the next day the legs are full of them or spider veins, which are close relatives. Instead of hiding varicose veins, individuals can try treating them with these techniques designed to get rid of them for good.
What Are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins are gnarled, twisted, and enlarged veins that appear on the skin when blood vessels turn a dark purple or blue. These unsightly veins occur when blood vessels become faulty and allow blood to pool in the vessel or flow in the wrong direction. Varicose veins can occur in any vein in the body, though it is important to note they typically appear on an individual's legs or their feet. Due to their gangly and unfortunate appearance, varicose veins can be an embarrassing condition most individuals dealing with them try to hide.
Varicose veins may be caused by pregnancy, weight gain, or the individual's body type. Veins are one-way valves that carry blood in one direction. When blood vessel walls become stretched, they get weaker and cause blood to flow in the opposite direction. Blood can also accumulate in the vein and cause them to become swollen and discolored. Due to the fact gravity makes it harder for blood to flow back to the heart, varicose veins usually occur in the legs, as they are furthest from the heart.
Unfortunately, it is not currently known precisely why blood vessel walls can become weak or faulty, but experts do know certain conditions can enhance the risk of this occurring and resulting in varicose veins. These risk factors for varicose veins include obesity, standing for extended periods, having a family history of varicose veins, being over fifty years old, menopause, and pregnancy. Certain medications may also increase an individual's risk of developing varicose veins, though this must be discussed with a doctor so potential medication substitutions can be evaluated.
The good news is varicose veins are not usually painful. The most common symptoms include veins that appear to be twisted, swollen, discolored, or lumpy. They may bulge out of the skin and change to a dark purple or blue. Less common symptoms of varicose veins include achy or heavy legs after exercise or at night, swollen ankles, spider veins, leg cramping when standing up, restless leg syndrome, bleeding for longer than normal, white patches near the ankles that look like scars, and skin discoloration near the affected veins.
When Do They Occur?
Most women experience varicose veins during their late twenties, and the condition tends to become worse with age. Other women will get them during or after pregnancy. Individuals who gain significant amounts of weight may experience them at any age. Women with a family history of varicose veins often deal with them earlier in life than those without a history. A sudden lifestyle change such as becoming sedentary after years of exercising may also cause varicose veins to appear.
The VNUS closure system, otherwise known as 'closure fast' is a procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to eliminate and close varicose veins. A physician inserts a tiny catheter or a tube into the affected vein and delivers radio waves that heat the vein, causing it to shrink. Eventually, the vein closes, and blood is rerouted to healthier veins that will not back up. The procedure is painless, only takes a few minutes to complete, and is covered by many insurance companies.
Endovenous Laser Treatment
Endovenous laser treatment (EVLT) is a form of treatment for varicose veins that includes using a laser in place of radio waves to shrink and close problematic veins. In this procedure, the doctor will carefully pass a laser fibre through a catheter into the affected vein(s). Once the affected veins are closed, blood is redirected to other healthy veins in the body where it can flow back to the heart. This form of treatment can completely heal the varicose veins and once a vein has been treated, the condition should not reappear. In addition, endovenous laser treatment is traditionally considered less painful than vein stripping and ligation, resulting in a shorter recovery time, and typically only local anesthesia is used for it.
Sclerotherapy is a process of treating varicose veins that uses a salt solution injection directly into the affected vein(s). The solution is designed to irritate the blood vessel lining, which causes it to collapse and stick together. The blood inside the vein clots and over time the vessel turns into scar tissue, which fades from view on the skin. The practice has been in existence since the 1930s and has proven to be a less invasive treatment than vein stripping, which includes removing the affected veins through surgical procedures.
Exercise is a good way to reduce the appearance of varicose veins by strengthening weak blood vessel walls to promote proper blood flow. Doing leg stretches may also help loosen up tight muscles and relieve cramping. According to Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, varicose veins can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding restrictive clothing and high heels, and not crossing legs when sitting. Walking, swimming and biking are low-impact exercises that should not further irritate the condition.
Wear Compression Socks
One of the most common ways to get rid of varicose veins is to wear compression socks, which can be found at most local drugstores. Compression socks are used to improve blood flow and reduce swelling and pain in the legs. On top of treating varicose veins, they can also lower an individual's chances of developing deep vein thrombosis, increase circulation, and reduce blood clots. Compression socks are stretchy and snugly-fitting socks that gently squeeze the leg. The pressure helps the arteries relax, minimizing the appearance and pain of varicose veins. Since the blood vessels are compressed, it's easier for blood to flow back up to the heart rather than pooling in the legs.
Ambulatory phlebectomy is a dermatological procedure that can be performed on an outpatient basis. During the procedure, superficial veins are removed through the use of slit-like, small skin incisions. Prior to the procedure, a dermatologist will do a physical exam and go over the patient's medical history. The patient and the doctor should discuss the potential risks, outcomes, and expectations for the procedure. A doctor should evaluate whether an individual's varicose veins are the main issue, or whether other veins may need treatment first. They should also evaluate if any of the varicose veins have blood clots, and if any other procedures are also necessary. Ambulatory phlebectomy isn't recommended for patients who can't wear compression socks or walk on their own.
Endoscopic Vein Surgery
With endoscopic vein surgery, a patient's doctor makes a small incision in the skin by a varicose vein. From there, they will use a small camera on the end of a thin tube to thread through the inside of the vein. There is a surgical device on the camera's end, which the doctor uses to close the vein. This type of surgery usually isn't recommended for patients whose varicose veins are only a cosmetic concern. Instead, it's recommended in cases where the veins are severe enough to cause skin ulcers, which are sores or mucous membranes on the skin accompanied by tissue disintegration. Individuals who have this surgery can usually return to their normal activity level in a few weeks.
Certain lifestyle and dietary changes can help treat varicose veins. Foods high in sodium will cause the body to retain more water, which can, in turn, lead to swelling and pain in the legs. If individuals start eating low-sodium foods instead, they'll minimize their body's overall water retention. It's important to note individuals should not cut out sodium entirely, as it's an essential mineral, and sodium deficiencies can lead to life-threatening complications.
Another dietary change patients can make is adding potassium-rich foods to their diet to reduce water retention. Some potassium-rich foods are leafy vegetables, potatoes, fish like tuna and salmon, white beans, lentils, pistachios, and almonds. Fiber-rich foods help regulate the bowels and prevent constipation, which can subsequently help varicose veins by keeping the patient's muscles and circulatory system from straining.
Avoid Restrictive Clothing
Some patients with varicose veins begin wearing tight and restrictive clothing, mistakenly believing it will have a similar effect to compression socks. But these kinds of clothes have the opposite effect. Individuals with varicose veins should avoid restrictive clothing like skinny jeans, tight elastic socks, girdles, and garters. Unlike compression socks, which are specifically designed to gently squeeze the veins without fully constricting them, tight clothes can cut off or restrict circulation through the legs. Studies have also indicated high heels lead to circulatory problems. When an individual's circulation is poor, the blood tends to pool in the extremities because there's inadequate pressure to pump it back to the heart. If an individual has varicose veins, impeding circulation with tight clothing will only make the veins worse.
Tips For Covering Up
Although covering up will not actually get rid of varicose veins, it is a good way to deal with these pesky veins when they decide to show up and during treatment, before they disappear. Wearing a pair of fun socks or tights to work or school can help. In some cases, compression socks, which as mentioned can treat these veins, can be found in fun patterns, so they're doing double duty! Covering up varicose veins with makeup in the summer when women generally wear shorts and skirts can also help reduce their appearance. Using an all-over moisturizer can help keep skin moisturized, especially after swimming, and this can assist with the affected veins in the long run.