Varicose veins (medical terms: varices, varicosis, or varicosity) are dilated and tortuous veins (3 mm in diameter or larger) that appear as convoluted swellings. Sometimes varicose veins protrude as knot-like bulges on the surface of the skin. Nearly 30% of the world’s population develop varicose veins. The risk for developing varicose veins is higher for women and increases with age, obesity, lack of exercise, pregnancy, or a genetic predisposition.
Varicose veins can form in any superficial vein in your body, but the veins in the lower extremities (foot, calf, thigh, or entire leg) are most commonly affected. Varicose veins can be painful or, on the contrary, completely painless. When symptoms are present, they can include ankle and leg swelling, heaviness, fullness, aching, restlessness, fatigue, pain, cramps, and itching. After sitting or standing for a long time these symptoms can worsen due to increased blood levels and pressure in the veins of your lower body. Also, high temperatures can aggravate these symptoms – varicose veins can trouble you more in the summer.
Early and correct diagnosis of varicose veins is essential to prevent further worsening of this venous disease. If varicose veins are left untreated, your quality of life can be negatively affected through discomfort and pain, swelling of your legs (edema), and skin changes.
In addition, varicose veins increase the risk for further severe complications such as thrombophlebitis (inflammatory process causing a blood clot to form), deep vein thrombosis (DVT), variceal bleeding, ulceration, and more.
Nearly 30% of the world’s population develop varicose veins. The risk for developing varicose veins is higher for women and increases with age, obesity, lack of exercise, pregnancy, or a genetic predisposition.
In varicose veins, the internal walls of the veins are changed or damaged, causing the veins to dilate. The venous valves do not close properly anymore, the blood flows backwards towards the feet and, as a result, pools in the veins.
This blood pooling causes the veins to stretch or twist, leading to the typical appearance of convoluted swellings and/or knot-like bulges on the surface of the skin.
It’s possible for younger individuals with a genetic predisposition to acquire them. Risk factors, such as an occupation that involves extensive standing or sitting or being overweight, can further lead to the development of varicose veins. Typically, varicose veins often appear during pregnancy due to the hormonal changes and the higher blood pressure linked to pregnancy.
If you have observed varicose veins in your legs, you should visit a doctor to check for underlying causes, particularly if the varicose veins cause pain. By means of ultrasound, the doctor visualizes the blood flow and checks if the superficial veins or the system of deep veins in your legs is affected.
To help with varicose veins, compression therapy with medical compression garments is the basic treatment.
If you are diagnosed with varicose veins, your doctor can prescribe compression garments like medical compression stockings. The elastic material of the medical compression stocking provides controlled pressure to the leg, with the strongest pressure at the ankle and decreasing pressure going up the leg that gently squeezes the vein walls together. This eases blood flow back towards the heart, reducing venous pressure, and improving overall circulation.
Injection of a liquid, foam, or glue (e.g. cyanoacrylate) under ultrasound guidance, that causes the veins to shrink and collapse.
Surgical removal of varicose veins. Superficial veins are removed through small incisions (Micro-incision Phlebectomy), deep veins via vein stripping.
Closing varicose veins with thermal energy (laser or radiofrequency)