What are varicose veins?
Not everyone has or will get varicose veins, so it is important to understand what they are and how they come about.
Veins are soft-walled vessels. Their primary job is to get blood from the foot back toward your heart through a series of tiny one-way valves that open and shut when your heart or calf muscles contract. This sends blood uphill through these soft-walled vessels. "When the vein stretches, the valves don't grow anymore," says Dee Jost, a family nurse practitioner in the Division of Vascular Surgery at University of Utah Health. That backward flow of blood can stretch out the vein over the course of the day, causing it to itch or feel heavy or ache. These are varicose veins. They can become large and twisted in appearance under the skin."
What causes varicose veins?
There are a few assumptions made about what causes varicose veins. Some people worry that crossing their legs too much or sitting for long periods of time will cause them, but those aren't necessarily true assumptions. Jost says it's usually not a lifestyle choice that puts you at risk. "There's a very high correlation with family (history). Perhaps your mom had varicose veins, so then you inherited a valve that doesn't work right in one of your veins and the next vein downstream from that now works twice as hard."
Along with your genetics, pregnancy and obesity are other common risk factors for developing varicose veins.
Are varicose veins dangerous?
The good news is that varicose veins are never dangerous. They will not damage your leg or joints and rarely cause a dangerous clot. However, they can be quite uncomfortable—sometimes feeling incredibly hot, burning, or itching. That is the main reason people come in to treat them. Varicose veins can also prevent people from exercising regularly at times.
What are the treatment options?
There are some effective treatment options available if varicose veins are affecting your everyday life. Treatment options include:
- Endovenous Laser Ablation Treatment (EVLT)
- Litigation and stripping surgery
- Microphlebectomy procedures
Treatment options will be determined by client preference, vein anatomy and size, and potential insurance regulations. Initial visits usually include a non-invasive venous mapping using an ultrasound, as well as a family history and physical evaluation.
Once you have been seen by a clinician, most insurances require a patient to go through the trial of conservative measures before treatment, which includes elevating your legs for at least 10 minutes a few times per day, over-the-counter pain medications, and wearing medical-grade compression stockings. From there, you'll usually have a follow-up visit to review your treatment options, risks, benefits, and expected recovery time.