Varicose veins are blood vessels that have become enlarged and twisted over time. They can appear close to the surface of the skin in hues that range from purple to blue, and while they occur most frequently in the legs and feet, varicose veins can be found anywhere in the body. They are more common in the legs and feet because of the pressure that is placed on veins as we stand and walk in upright positions. Varicose veins are not only unattractive to look at they can be painfully uncomfortable.
Various Kinds of Varicosities
A patient seeking treatment for varicose veins would usually come to a medical office like mine and consult with a vascular surgeon. General surgeons may also be able to help individuals with varicose veins, but a vascular surgeon has more experience treating them and is specialized in the treatment of all blood vessels. In fact, I treat only patients with vein and artery problems. You may wonder if there are different classifications of varicose veins, and to you I would respond, “yes.” There are three general kinds of varicose veins and they include the following:
- Trunk varicose veins
- Reticular varicose veins
- Telangiectasia varicose veins
Trunk Varicose Veins
Varicose veins that are thick, bumpy, and appear to be close to the surface of the skin are probably trunk varicose veins. These blood vessels are often pretty large and long, and they can be unpleasant to behold. Some patients report no pain or discomfort associated with these varicosities, however, it is pretty common to hear others report that they are not only unattractive but they are also painful.
I met a patient for the first time in the early spring one year. She was expecting her third child and complained of painful varicose veins that had appeared on her calves. I explained that one of the risk factors to developing varicosities is pregnancy. A woman’s body changes so rapidly during pregnancy to accommodate for a growing baby. It’s common to pack on 15-20 pounds during a healthy pregnancy, and oftentimes women can gain more. Weight gain paired with the extreme pressure that a pregnant uterus places on everything within the abdominal cavity and below it can easily cause otherwise healthy blood vessels to become varicose veins.
Reticular Varicose Veins
Reticular varicose veins are frequently grouped together, twisting around one another and becoming a tangle of vessels. They are also usually red in appearance. If they are in your legs, you might also experience the following symptoms in addition to seeing them:
- Legs that feel heavy and achy
- Muscle cramp sensations that occur frequently
- Swelling in the feet and ankles
Telangiectasia Varicose Veins
The last class of varicosities is the telangiectasia varicose vein. Of the three types of varicose veins, patients report the least amount of discomfort from the telangiectasia veins. They are also known as spider veins, or thread veins, and they are usually quite small and fine in appearance. That’s not to say that patients do not want to have treatments that would eradicate them, but they are generally not as sinister in nature as trunk or reticular varicose veins. Spider veins are commonly found on the face and on the legs.
Causes of Varicose Veins
To clearly define the causes of varicose veins, I must first explain how blood vessels operate. Blood vessels have tiny valves that open and close allowing blood to flow smoothly in one direction. Unfortunately when these valves are damaged blood can flow backwards and can pool in blood vessels. As the blood pools, pressure is created that can cause the blood vessel to become enlarged and swollen, or varicose. Risk factors for developing varicose veins include:
- Being overweight
- Old age
Varicose Vein Treatments
Fortunately, varicose veins do not usually cause serious health concerns. They can be rather unsightly and sometimes they can be downright painful. Treatment options do exist if a patient would like her varicose veins eradicated.
- Compression socks. These widely available at your local pharmacy, but I think it finding medical grade quality in a compression stocking can provide you with better relief from painful varicose veins. The pharmacist at the pharmacy can help you determine the proper size and fit for your feet and legs.
- Phlebectomy. This involves removing segments of problem blood vessels. Usually this can be done in an out-patient setting without the use of general anesthesia. It involves two or three small incisions, and the removal of the affected blood vessels.
- Sclerotherapy. This is another out-patient procedure in which a vascular surgeon would inject substances that seal varicose veins off permanently. After time the blood vessel fades and can be a lot less apparent.
Treating Varicose Veins
If you suffer from painful varicose veins in your legs, or even elsewhere, there is help. A vascular surgeon can prescribe compression stockings, or perform a phlebectomy or sclerotherapy. Treatment options are available for those who seek them.
Lauren Hill is freelance writer and long time sufferer of varicose veins. She is a contributing author for Cardiac Vascular & Thoracic Surgery Associates (CVTSA), a Virginia surgical group specializing in robotic, heart transplant and vascular surgeries. Go here to see how they can help you.