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Varicose Vein Treatment

Varicose vein treatment usually begins conservatively with lifestyle changes.

During varicose vein treatment, a doctor may inject a scar-forming solution directly into the vein. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
During varicose vein treatment, a doctor may inject a scar-forming solution directly into the vein.

Varicose Vein Treatment

Varicose vein treatment varies and can involve either surgical or non-surgical treatment. Although they do not usually pose serious health risks, varicose veins can be unsightly and, at times, extremely uncomfortable. Caused by malfunctioning valves that allow blood to collect in the veins, varicose veins can occur anywhere in the body, but most often appear in the feet and legs. Initial treatment for the condition is typically conservative -- patients are often encouraged to lose weight, exercise more regularly and wear compression stockings to promote circulation. However, many therapies are invasive, requiring some form of surgery, and some may force patients to spend weeks in recovery.

Causes and Symptoms of Varicose Veins

Appearing more often in women than in men, varicose veins are mainly caused by malfunctioning valves in the blood vessels, causing them to retain blood and become enlarged. As the veins swell, they become visible through the skin and may cause aches, pain or general discomfort.

The most common physiological risk factors for varicose veins are pregnancy, old age and thrombophlebitis (inflamed veins caused by blood clots). Some may also have congenitally defective blood vessel valves, predisposing them to varicose veins from birth.

In addition to these risk factors, doctors have pinpointed some non-medical causes of varicose veins. For example, standing or sitting for long periods of time can increase blood pressure in the legs, causing superficial veins to swell and possibly become permanently enlarged. According to the University of Virginia Health System, obesity is another potential cause of varicose veins because excess weight can press down on the blood vessels of the legs, aggravating the condition. Some other possible symptoms of varicose veins are color changes in the skin, sores on the legs, rash and sensations in the legs, such as a heavy feeling, burning or aching.

Conservative Treatment for Varicose Veins

The first line of defense against varicose veins is conservative treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:

  • Frequent exercise
  • Wearing compression stockings
  • Avoiding tight-fitting clothes
  • Elevating the legs while seated
  • Taking breaks during long periods of sitting or standing
  • Losing weight

The main benefit of each of these treatments is increased circulation, which pumps blood through blood vessels and back to the heart, preventing it from collecting in the veins. Some of them are also complementary; losing weight, for example, is easier with frequent exercise, while wearing loose clothes and propping up the feet at the same time can be quite comfortable. Even if patients are able to take breaks at work and get regular exercise, they may also benefit from wearing compression stockings, which are available at most pharmacies and come in a wide variety of colors and sizes.

Surgical Treatment for Varicose Veins

There are several surgical treatments for varicose veins, but they are usually reserved for patients whose symptoms do not improve (or become worse) after trying conservative treatment and self-care. One common procedure is sclerotherapy, during which the physician injects a scar-forming solution directly into the vein. Once the scar forms, blood can no longer flow through the vein, causing it to shrink. The procedure is popular because it does not require anesthesia and can be done in the physician's office.

Other surgical treatments include vein stripping, ambulatory phlebectomy and endoscopic vein surgery. Although these procedures are effective, they require anesthesia and may require patients to spend up to two weeks in recovery. In particular, endoscopic vein surgery is comparatively invasive and normally reserved for patients experiencing severe pain or who have developed leg ulcers.

Laser Surgery for Varicose Veins

Laser treatment and radiofrequency therapy are two exciting alternatives to traditional surgical treatments. The technique for both procedures is essentially the same: After being inserted into the varicose vein, the laser fiber (or radio wire) emits a burst of energy and is pulled back through the patient's skin, causing the vein to collapse and redirecting the blood through healthier vessels. While the two treatments are similar, radiofrequency therapy is usually used to treat larger varicose veins.

On top of being minimally invasive, these treatments have the added benefit of being relatively easy to recover from. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, they do not normally take more than an hour to complete, after which patients are given a compression stocking and are allowed to leave. Laser treatment, however, does have one slight inconvenience: Patients are strongly encouraged to avoid exposing the affected patch of skin to the sun for 14 days after the procedure, since ultraviolet radiation may cause unsightly skin spots to appear.

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