Wanda Kirejczyk, M.D. [March 22 2012]
It is estimated that over 80 million people in the United States suffer from varicose veins. By age 50, more than 50 percent of women have them. What are varicose veins and what can be done about them?
Varicose veins are large, tortuous, bulging veins near the skin's surface. They most commonly develop in the legs and ankles. Leg veins have valves directing blood flow from the feet back to the heart. The muscles in the legs pump the blood through the veins. In a healthy vein system, this blood flow goes in one direction only, aided by valves in the veins preventing backward blood flow. When this mechanism is impaired by leaking or faulty valves, the blood begins to back up in the veins causing pressure to build up. The veins become weak, large and twisted.
Heredity is the leading risk factor for varicose veins and the condition often runs in families with women more commonly affected. Risk for varicose veins increases with occupations requiring prolonged standing or sitting; obesity; trauma to legs; and hormonal changes including from pregnancy, menopause and use of birth control pills.
Although varicose veins are simply a cosmetic concern for some people, the veins are very problematic for others. Common symptoms include aching or throbbing pain in the legs that may worsen after prolonged sitting or standing. Restless legs, swelling, itchy skin and red, scaly rashes may also occur. More serious problems can occur with long-standing varicose veins. These include bleeding from a varicose vein, skin ulcers, scarring or thinning and permanent skin darkening on the legs. Blood clots can also form in the varicose veins leading to painful, red, swollen veins. These symptoms warrant a trip to a vein physician for a consultation and thorough evaluation.
Historically, veins were surgically removed. This meant a longer recovery often with considerable pain and residual scarring from procedure stitches. Today, with a modern, minimally invasive technique known as endovenous laser ablation there is virtually no scarring and patients can return to work the next day. In a state-of-the-art vein center, a patient receives a comprehensive evaluation including an ultrasound of the veins and detailed patient history resulting in a tailored treatment plan. Treatment is performed on an outpatient basis using local anesthesia; treatments are usually covered by insurance.
On treatment day, an endovenous laser is placed into the malfunctioning vein using ultrasound to confirm proper laser placement. The leg is anesthetized with a numbing fluid and the vein is closed with the laser light, redirecting the blood flow into healthy normal veins. The varicose veins are then removed through tiny pinholes in the skin. No stitches or cutting required! Patients are immediately up and walking.
So if you are among the many with unsightly, painful varicose veins, there has never been a better time to get safe, effective treatment.
Dr. Wanda Kirejczyk is a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) medical staff. For referrals to HOCC physicians, please contact our free Need-A-Physician referral service by phone at 1-800-321-6244 or online, www.thocc.org.
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