Varicose Veins Summary:

Varicose veins are quite common, especially in women, who are at a greater predisposition to develop them.  Millions of people will develop varicose veins at some point in their lives. But what many of those millions of people don’t know is that varicose veins are only a symptom of a larger problem, known as chronic venous insufficiency or vein disease.  In this guide, we’ll focus on the serious health risks of varicose veins and venous insufficiency. Aesthetic considerations about the way your legs look with protruding, prominent varicose veins are important, but don’t hold a candle to the real concern and risks to your health.  Pain, profuse bleeding, skin conditions, ulcers, wounds that won’t heal, and blood clots – which can embolize to the lungs and be fatal – are all elements of the progression of venous disease. Varicose veins are just one of the highly visible symptoms. The good news is that all of this can be treated.  Varicose vein treatment involves deactivating the dysfunctional vein that is responsible for the chronic venous insufficiency. Vein doctors are well-trained with a variety of treatment options, all of which can be administered on an outpatient basis. You don’t have to live with varicose veins on your legs, and by getting treatment, you can ensure that you do LIVE, by eliminating the serious health risks of varicose veins and vein disease.

Introduction to Varicose Veins

Too often, articles in magazines, blogs, and elsewhere online that feature varicose veins spend a lot of time talking about their appearance.  Yes, they may be aesthetically not very pleasing, and detract from otherwise lovely looking legs. But really, the aesthetic concerns around varicose veins only scratch the surface, if you’ll pardon the pun.  Deeper down, there’s a more serious problem. Varicose veins are only a symptom or result of that problem, and treating varicose veins without treating the underlying problem will simply result in varicose veins returning.  That underlying problem is known as venous disease, or chronic venous insufficiency. Below, we’ll explore this problem, how it leads to varicose veins, the risk factors for developing varicose veins, and highlight the serious health risks of varicose veins and venous disease.  Hopefully, that will spur you to seek varicose vein treatment. We’ll briefly discuss where to obtain treatment, and the treatment options that exist today as well.

The Cause of Varicose Veins: Chronic Venous Insufficiency

Varicose veins are characterized by long, twisting, visible veins bulging up to the surface of the skin, most often leg veins.  This is in contrast to health veins, which are usually straight in appearance, and rarely visible or protruding. They’re caused by chronic venous insufficiency, also known as vein disease.  To understand how they form, it’s necessary to briefly discuss the anatomy of a vein and your circulatory system. Normally, the veins throughout the body have valves in the veins, that open and close as part of your heartbeat and circulatory cycle.  This series of valves in the veins helps to fight against the force of gravity and raise blood back towards your heart. The veins in the legs are under the most pressure due to gravity, and these valves are likewise under significant strain. Over time, and for a variety of reasons and risk factors (which we’ll talk about more below), these valves can start to weaken.  Instead of fully closing during each cycle, they can remain partially open. This allows blood to reflux or flow back down behind the valves, pool in the veins, and cause increasing pressure. Eventually, the veins branch out, trying to find a new pathway around the malfunctioning valve. Varicose veins are those branches.

Risk Factors for Developing Varicose Veins

Millions of people suffer from varicose veins to some degree, though not everyone will develop them in their lifetime.  There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of varicose veins affecting you. They include:

  • Genetics.  There is a significant genetic predisposition.  So, if one or both of your parents had varicose veins, there’s a good chance you’ll develop them as well.
  • Gender.  Females are at a higher risk (50%) of developing varicose veins in their lifetime compared to males (30%), largely due to hormone differences and the way our bodies store and deposit fat.
  • Pregnancy.  The changes that occur in the body during pregnancy, including physical stress on veins that feed the legs, as well as hormone changes, can all increase the risk of developing varicose veins.  
  • Aging.  As we age, the valves in the veins (like the rest of our bodies) suffer from wear and tear, and their function may naturally degrade, leading to venous insufficiency and varicose veins.
  • History of Blood Clots.  If you have been diagnosed with blood clots, especially in the legs (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT), you are at an increased risk for serious valve damage and varicose vein development.
  • Obesity.  Being significantly overweight increases the pressure on your veins, which can more easily cause varicose veins to develop and venous insufficiency to occur.
  • Occupation.  If you stand or sit for long periods of time in your job, you are more likely to develop these vein problems.

The Serious Health Risks of Varicose Veins and Venous Disease

As we mentioned earlier, varicose veins are merely the outward symptom of venous disease.  Chronic venous insufficiency is no joke, and nothing to fool around with. It’s a serious medical problem, and there are serious health risks of varicose veins and venous disease.  No one wants to deal with varicose veins from an aesthetic standpoint, of course, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Venous disease and varicose veins can cause:

  • Increasing pain and discomfort in the legs, including fatigue, itchiness, soreness, and sensitivity in and around the leg veins.
  • Distension of the veins and protrusion through the skin at ever-increasing rates, which can lead to easy bleeding.  Mild brushing, scratching, or bumping of distended varicose veins can trigger bleeding, that often requires a hospital visit to stop.
  • Several skin conditions can develop, including eczema, scarring, and poorly-healing wounds.
  • Leg ulcers – effectively, open wounds – can develop on the legs, especially in the lower legs, causing pain, infection risk, and more.
  • Worst of all, blood clots can form, though a process known as deep vein thrombosis.  These blood clots can migrate through the veins to the lungs, and cause a pulmonary embolism.  This is most often fatal. There are no serious health risks of varicose veins that are more serious than death.  

Where to Obtain Varicose Veins Treatment

Fortunately, there are treatments for varicose veins, and varicose vein treatment centers that focus on nothing else.  Reputable vein centers have trained medical doctors known as phlebologists, or vein doctors, on staff. They have the necessary skills, experience, and familiarity with diagnosing and treating varicose veins and the underlying chronic venous insufficiency.  You’ll also want to look for a doctor or treatment center that has a good reputation, answers your questions, has available appointments and the latest treatment equipment, and, if possible, accepts your medical insurance.

Varicose Vein Treatment Options

Modern treatment options for varicose veins are minimally-invasive, non-surgical, and have little associated pain, discomfort, or down time.  Some of the top varicose vein treatments can be performed on an outpatient basis in a vein doctor’s office. Depending on the severity of your venous insufficiency and varicose veins, as well as the number and location of veins to be treated, the doctor will develop a plan that utilizes one or more of the most common treatment techniques.  All of these treatment options are designed to shut down or block the malfunctioning vein, allowing blood to be rerouted through healthy veins. The blocked or shut down vein will then be reabsorbed by the body over time. After the dysfunctional vein is deactivated, then the varicose veins can be treated so that they will not recur. Some of the top varicose vein treatments in use today include VenaSeal, a medical adhesive injected into the vein; Varithena, a compound that is injected into the vein and irritates the walls to collapse; and radiofrequency ablation, which uses a catheter inserted into the vein that emits radio waves to irritate the wall of the veins and collapse them.  

FAQs about Varicose Veins

What causes varicose/spider veins?

Varicose veins and spider veins are caused by chronic venous insufficiency.  Spider veins and varicose veins are quite similar, but spider veins are much smaller in diameter and more numerous than varicose veins.  

Can varicose veins cause death or heart problem?

If left untreated, varicose veins can cause death via blood clots that create a pulmonary embolism in the lungs.  Blood clots can also have an impact on the function of the heart. Blood pressure changes and other aspects of venous insufficiency can also negative impact cardiac function.  

What should I do if I have slight varicose vein?

Even slight varicose veins are an early symptom of venous insufficiency.  Schedule an appointment with a vein doctor and have them evaluated in a varicose vein consultation.  The doctor will be able to tell you one of the best course of action for follow-up and treatment.

What are varicose veins?

Varicose veins are the branched-out new veins that grow off of dysfunctional veins, usually in the legs.  

What are the main causes of varicose veins?

Chronic venous insufficiency, characterized by dysfunctional valves in the veins of the legs, is the main cause of varicose veins.  The reflux of blood behind these valves, which no longer close completely and properly, leads to increased pressure in the veins, causing them to branch out and seek out a pathway to bypass the valves.  

Laser ablation varicose veins?

Laser ablation is an option for treating varicose veins.  However, it is generally more painful, with more downtime and recovery restrictions, than its sibling, radiofrequency ablation.  Some of the vein doctors prefer radiofrequency ablation. The effectiveness and risks are the same, but there’s less pain for the patient and less recovery downtime.

What are the types of varicose veins?

Varicose veins can look different in different people.  Their size, prominence, colors, and other characteristics can vary significantly.  The telltale sign, however, is a twisting, knotted appearance, compared to the normally smooth and straight line appearance of regular veins.  

What is the treatment for varicose veins?

The numerous treatment options for varicose veins all seek to shut down the dysfunctional vein that is the source of the varicose vein formation.  VenaSeal, Varithena, and venous ablation (either laser or radiofrequency ablation) are the most common outpatient treatments.

Concluding Thoughts on Varicose Veins

By now, it should be clear that there are serious health risks with varicose veins and the underlying venous disease.  They should be treated promptly to avoid potentially life-threatening complications. Know your risk factors, know the signs, and take action.  Book an appointment at a vein treatment center with qualified vein doctors for an evaluation and treatment.