What are varicose veins?
Varicose veins are twisted enlarged veins generally occurring in the legs and feet. They affect up to 30% of the Australian population and often appear blue or dark purple in colour. Thankfully, modern medical treatments offer an alternative to traditional surgery for those suffering from varicose veins.
What are the symptoms of varicose veins?
Some people experience no symptoms at all whilst others may experience all, or some, of the below. In general, vein pain is considered vague and dull rather than sharp or immediate. If you raise your legs and the pain goes away, this is an indication your pain is vein related.
- Pain, itching or heaviness in the legs.
- Burning, throbbing or muscle cramping.
- Pain that intensified after prolonged sitting or standing.
- Chronic swelling in the lower legs or ankles.
Learn more: Varicose vein symptoms.
What causes varicose veins?
Varicose veins are caused when vein valves aren’t functioning properly. When the vein valves become weak or faulty, they can no longer propel blood back to the heart and instead, blood collects in your vein. It’s currently the most prevalent venous condition in
the country, affecting almost one-third of the population. Largely impacting the legs and feet, varicose veins can form in other parts of the body as well.
Venous insufficiency, which is one of the leading causes of varicose veins, is highly complex and can have multiple risk factors. While the exact reason venous insufficiency develops is often unknown, having more than one risk factor can increase your chances of developing the condition. Below are some of the most common causes of varicose veins:
There is strong evidence that weakness in your veins and valves is inherited. Your unique genetic profile determines the strength of your vein walls, valves and muscle density – all of which provide support to your circulatory system. In addition to being born with weak veins, you can inherit too few valves from one or both of your parents. Unsure if you have varicose veins? Our self-assessment tool can help you identify potentially dangerous vein issues. Try it now.
If you’re a healthy woman who has never had varicose veins before, you may experience them for the first time them while you’re pregnant. That’s because the extra volume of blood produced during pregnancy is necessary to support your body and that of your growing fetus.
The extra pressure placed on leg veins forces the body to work more vigorously to propel all that blood back up to the heart. To complicate matters, even more, the female hormone progesterone, which is elevated during pregnancy, has a weakening effect on blood vessels.
Read more: Do varicose veins go away after pregnancy?
Similar to pregnancy, hormonal fluctuations during menopause can impact the healthy function of veins. The rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone levels can create thicker and less flexible vein walls and impair the function of vein valves, preventing them from closing properly. The thickened vein walls can create additional congestion and swelling and can constrict your veins.
The risk of developing varicose veins increases with age. With each passing year, the aging process results in wear and tear on blood vessels and the vein valves that regulate healthy blood flow. When this happens, the faulty valves start allowing small amounts of blood to flow backwards and pool in your veins instead of being returned to the heart.
Carrying excess weight causes undue stress on all your organs, particularly your veins. Stress manifests as increased pressure on your circulatory system, weakening the veins and valves in your legs. Varicose veins form when your circulatory system has to work extra hard to pump blood against the extra weight, creating a situation where the blood starts to flow backwards and collect in the veins.
Standing for long periods of time
When you stand all day, your veins have to fight gravity for extended periods of time and this can lead to your veins becoming swollen. If you already suffer from venous insufficiency, then standing for long periods can increase your chances of varicose veins forming.
If you’re looking for non-surgical options to relieve the symptoms of varicose veins, check out The Vein Institute Shop.
Other factors such as trauma in the leg are of oral contraceptive pill can also be risk factors for varicose veins.
Varicose Veins: Causes and Symptoms – See more on our YouTube channel
Varicose veins are twisted, bulging veins that commonly protrude above the skin. They are usually easily identifiable due to their twisted and discoloured nature, however they are not always visible to the naked eye. The veins become enlarged when the valves stop functioning and the deoxygenated blood pools. This is also the reason why they are a bluish-purple colour – the classic appearance of varicose veins.
Veins which bulge and protrude above the skin are not always a medical concern. Bulging veins sometimes appear on the arms or legs during exercise. These veins are also often seen on our hands and feet, and become increasingly common as we age.
Smaller than varicose veins, reticular veins are visible however they do not protrude above the surface of the skin. Due to being filled with deoxygenated blood, the veins appear blue or purple in colour, they are most commonly found on the inner thigh, the backs of knees, or on the ankles.
Spider veins are the mildest form of venous insufficiency. The tiny, string-like damaged veins, can appear on the surface of the skin. These are most typically found on the face or legs and can be flat or slightly raised and form under the skin as wavy lines, webs or branches. They can range in colour – from purple to red.
Varicose veins (and spider veins – less severe forms of varicose veins) around the feet and ankles are referred to as Corona Phlebectasia by vein specialists. Statistics indicate that 3 out of 10 people will experience varicose in their adult lives. Most importantly, symptoms can differ in severity, ranging from strictly cosmetic to indicating a more serious medical problem.
Pelvic congestion syndrome (PCS) is chronic pain affecting women. It can be incredibly debilitating and may even lead to disability. PCS pain is frequently confused for menstrual pain, so it’s important to know the symptoms of pelvic congestion syndrome, as well as the causes and available treatment options. PCS affects the pelvis region (lower torso) and is associated with the pooling of blood in the veins of the pelvis, which have become dilated, swollen and distorted.
Lymphoedema, or poor fluid drainage from the lymphatic systems, is swelling that is caused by a collection of too much lymph fluid. It usually happens in your arms and legs, but is not uncommon to occur in other places of the body. This swelling may cause pain and limit how well the affected area moves. Lymphedema can be a result of damaged lymph nodes from cancer treatment and a result of infection, injury or trauma of areas of the body.
Endovenous laser ablation (EVLA) is a minimally-invasive laser treatment for varicose veins. Over the past decade, this procedure, along with Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) have emerged as the gold standard treatments, due to their high success rates, short recovery times and minimal discomfort for patients.
Radiofrequency ablation involves inserting a catheter into the vein then delivering a source of heat, closing off the vein and stopping the flow of blood. During RFA treatment, radiofrequency energy is administered in 20-second bursts directly into the vein through a tiny catheter. Rather than clotting the blood, the radiofrequency energy targets the collagen in the vein wall, causing it to shrink and prevent blood from circulating through that vein.
Sclerotherapy is a minimally-invasive procedure for treating small varicose veins and spider veins. It focuses on closing damaged veins by injecting them with a sclerosing agent, while guided in place using ultrasound imagery. Sclerotherapy is a very common and simple treatment option for varicose veins and spider veins
Stripping, for a long time, was considered the most effective way to remove varicose veins, despite the recovery time required. The procedure has been performed for over a century, but has continuously developed with the advancements in medicine and technology.
If varicose veins develop, there is a chance that red blood cells which have leaked from the swollen veins will disintegrate. Depositing haemoglobin and other substances into muscle tissue and skin. The result is the skin covering the swollen veins can become irritated and inflamed. This leads to symptoms that start with itching but can quickly progress to tenderness or pain. If untreated, varicose veins can lead to restless leg syndrome or cramping, the development of skin ulcers or thrombosis (blood clots) as well as darkening of the skin around the veins which is known as Varicose Eczema or Stasis Dermatitis.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms deep in the veins, most commonly in the legs. DVT can be dangerous since the blood clots can break away, travel through the circulatory system and become lodged in the lungs – known as a pulmonary embolism.
Phlebitis is the inflammation of a vein, occurring superficially or deep inside the vein. This condition can result from injury or irritation to the lining of a blood vessel. Superficial phlebitis affects blood vessels closer to the skin, whereas deep phlebitis is found in larger veins, such as those in your legs.
Venous ulcers are large wounds that occur on the skin when faulty valves increase pressure inside the vein. This causes blood proteins and blood cells to leach into the surrounding tissue. If left untreated, this tissue can start to break down due to loss of nutrients and being deprived of oxygen.
What treatments are there for varicose veins?
Are the treatments safe?
Does treatment hurt?
Will I need to take time off work?
What is the recovery plan?
- Minimal to no downtime or time away from work.
- You can drive after the procedure, if you haven’t taken any medications to reduce anxiety.
- No long-distance travel greater than 5 hours is recommended.
- We recommend that all patients wear compression stockings or bandages for a minimum of five days after treatment to assist the healing process.
If there is any discomfort following the treatment the doctor may recommend pain reliever medications.
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