They’re not dangerous. But if you’ve got varicose veins, that’s probably a small consolation. Dangerous or not, the twisted blue bulges are not a pretty sight. However, varicose veins can be successfully treated and there are steps you can take to ease the condition.
“Under normal circumstances, valves in the veins open to allow blood to flow toward the heart and close to keep blood from flowing back down,” says Ulises Baltazar, M.D., board certified vascular surgeon on staff at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital. “Sometimes, though, valves in the legs fail to seal properly. When that happens, blood leaks down into the vein and pools behind the valve.”
Although varicose veins are no more than a cosmetic concern for many, a feeling of heaviness in the legs, night cramps, skin ulcers and phlebitis are among the potential complications.
Women are more likely than men to develop varicose veins — a fact due in no small part to pregnancy, when elevated hormone levels cause vein walls to weaken, contributing to valve failure. Heredity plays a big role, too. In fact, if your mom had varicose veins, don’t be surprised if you develop identical bulges.
Couch potatoes also are more prone to the condition. Here’s why: With each step you take, the large calf muscles contract — much as the heart does. That motion helps pump blood back toward the heart. Because sedentary people spend a lot of time off their feet, their calf muscles aren’t exercised. As a result, the muscles’ pumping action is stifled, allowing blood to pool in the legs.
Whether you have varicose veins or are trying to prevent them, here are some suggestions for keeping your legs in good shape:
• Change position. If you sit or stand for long periods of time, it’s important to take frequent breaks. Walk around, do some leg lifts, flex your ankles.
• Wear support hose. If you stand for long periods of time during the day, using compression stockings will help to protect your legs from varicose veins.
• Exercise regularly. Walking, swimming, biking and other exercises strengthen calf muscles, helping them pump blood upward.
• Shed excess weight. Extra pounds aggravate circulatory problems and contribute to weakened vein valves.
• Put your feet up. At the end of the day, raise your legs so that they’re about 12 inches above heart level. This allows the blood to drain from the veins and aids circulation.
Dr. Baltazar says there are treatment options for varicose veins when lifestyle changes aren’t enough. If you think your varicose veins require treatment, ask your healthcare provider about these options:
Sclerotherapy. This nonsurgical procedure, which can be done in the doctor’s office, involves a series of injections that shrink varicose veins. The injected solution causes irritation and eventual scarring within the abnormal veins, forcing them to close up.
Endovenous ablation. This is a minimally invasive technique that is used instead of stripping the affected vein, which is closed with heat from a radiofrequency catheter or a laser fiber.
Surgery. In a procedure called ligation and stripping, the affected portion of the vein is tied off and removed. The surgery, which is usually reserved for very large varicose veins, is often performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia.
To make an appointment with Dr. Baltazar or another vascular surgeon in your area, call our physician referral line at 281-274-7500.